Have you ever thought about how bridges came to be?
Let’s go back in time and take a look at the earliest and simplest bridges and explore how they evolved into the modern marvels they are today.
What is a bridge?
Before a bridge was a structure, it was a concept.
The earliest humans imagined crossing over spans of land or bodies of water, making it faster and easier to “bridge” the gap between two places. They aspired to join together far-off points, reducing the distance between them. It would make it easier to hunt for and gather food and bring it home. It would also allow them to connect with others. Humans have always been social creatures. The desire to explore and meet other people may have been an important driver of bridge development as much as the need for food.
Over time, bridges moved from being a concept to a structural solution, providing passage over obstacles including caverns, valleys, bodies of water, and eventually, roads. Bridge designs became more sophisticated century by century. Different types were developed to serve a range of functions. They could be engineered so they could be built in a variety of locations.
Did you know: The word bridge comes from the Old English word brycg, which is derived from the German root brugj? The legacy of this term proves its importance as a concept through human history.
The earliest bridges
Nature made the first bridges and they were “discovered” by early humans. They were as simple as a log or a series of rocks crossing a stream. In some cases, natural rock arches and other formations were used by prehistoric people as bridges.
Humans learned from this and constructed the first bridges out of wooden logs, planks, and stones. They were simple support and crossbeam structures, but they got people from one spot to another.
The next advancement was the development of the most rudimentary suspension bridges. Humans watched monkeys swing from vine to vine to get from place to place. They twisted, wove together, or braided vegetation to build simple rope-style crossings. Eventually, they connected parallel cables with cross pieces made of wood and other materials, adding hand grips to make traveling over them easier and safer. This was the first step toward modern suspension marvels like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
Did you know: Prehistoric people clearly valued bridges? They bridged waterways long before they built simple shelters for themselves.