Howrah Bridge is one of the defining monuments of Kolkata and the pride of its inhabitants. It is perhaps the best-known bridge in India and certainly one of the most recognizable. Despite the fact that most of us have heard of this famous bridge and many even use it to commute regularly, we know precious little about its history. Here are 10 little-known facts about Howrah Bridge:
Before the Howrah Bridge was born there was a proposal to build a suspended-girder bridge at the site to cross the Hooghly River. There were also proposals to build a tunnel or an arched bridge. As fate would have it, these plans for construction never came to fruition.
Although construction of the Howrah Bridge only started in the 20th century, the origins of the structure can be traced back to 1871. This was when the Government of Bengal took the first decisive steps to construct a permanent crossing, with the passage of the Howrah Bridge Act. The act was amended in 1935 to facilitate construction of the new structure.
Prior to the construction of the architectural marvel that we are familiar with today, a pontoon bridge stood, or rather, floated at the site. This was the first incarnation of the Howrah Bridge. Off course, this type of crossing has a limited load carrying capacity, so it was eventually replaced.
Howrah Bridge may have looked quite different if not for World War II hostilities. Bidding for a global tender was to be awarded to the lowest bidder, which was a German company. Increased hostilities in 1935 resulted in cancellation of the contract, which was instead awarded to India's Braithwaite Burn and Jessop Construction Company Limited.
Construction of Howrah Bridge took 6 years, starting in 1936. The architects used a cantilever suspension design, in which large beams are supported at one end, while projecting horizontally at the other. The bridge was finally opened to the public a year after its completion, in 1943.
The first transport to make the journey across the Hooghly, via the newly opened bridge was not a car or a bullock cart; it was a tram. Because of the heavy load on the bridge the use of trams was discontinued along the route from 1993.
The Howrah Bridge stretches across 705 meters and has a width of 71 feet, not including the 14 feet footpaths on both sides. At the time of its construction this made it the 3rd longest bridge of its kind. Today, it is regarded as the 6th longest cantilever bridge in the world.
Our government leaders are known for their zeal of renaming cities and monuments and although done with the best of intentions, sometimes these endeavors are just misguided. In honor of the first Asian Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, the bridge was rechristened as Rabindra Setu in 1965. Although Bengalis are immensely proud of their heritage and cherish their memories of Tagore, Howrah Bridge is simply a lot more convenient as a name; 50 years later it still goes by this name.
Tata Steel is very much a part of India’s heritage and history, being at the forefront of India’s industrial revolution, since its birth over 100 years ago. The history of Howrah Bridge is also a part of the Tata legacy, as it supplied 23,000 tons of steel for the project. What’s interesting is that there are no nuts and bolts in the structure, as the builders used steel riveting instead.
The Howrah Bridge may be the world’s busiest cantilever bridge, bearing a load of around 100,000 vehicles and over 150,000 pedestrians each day. To put those figures in perspective, traffic in 1946 was recorded as little over 27,000 vehicles, around 121,000 pedestrians, and close to 3,000 cattle.
Whether you live in Kolkota or are just visiting, these astounding facts should give you a greater appreciation of this marvel of human engineering.