Wheeling Suspension Bridge Protected: August 31, 1852
On August 31, 1852, a new federal law gave the Wheeling Suspension Bridge special protection as a mail-carrying route. While it may sound humdrum, the law was actually pivotal in ensuring the bridge’s survival.
The Wheeling Suspension Bridge had opened to great fanfare in 1849.With a 1,010-foot main span, it was the longest bridge of its type in the world.
But, while Wheeling celebrated its new landmark, western Pennsylvanians were quietly plotting its destruction.
A group of industrialists from Pittsburgh—a chief rival of Wheeling at the time—filed a proceeding with the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the bridge a public nuisance because it blocked large steamboats from passing—namely ones heading to and from Pittsburgh on the Ohio River.
The Supreme Court sided with the Pennsylvanians—meaning that the bridge would have to come down. The bridge’s owners, though, turned to Congress, which declared the span part of a mail-carrying route, allowing it to survive and forcing steamers to lower their smokestacks when passing through Wheeling.
As a result, the Wheeling Suspension Bridge still stands today and remains one of West Virginia’s great historic landmarks.