All the New Lift Bridges Use GE Electric Motors

Albany's New Lift Bridge 1933

We wrote about the Maiden Lane Bridge last week. Now a little bit of time for the Dunn, or at least what would become the Dunn. While we don’t know who built the motors that operated the swing bridge of the Maiden Lane span, the electric motors that raised the lift bridge that replaced the old Greenbush swing span were made in Schenectady by General Electric. The Schenectady Gazette of April 3, 1933 ran the somewhat murky photo shown here of the new lift bridge.

“The new lift bridge across the Hudson river, connecting the cities of Rensselaer and Albany, has solved, it is said, a serious traffic problem. The old swing bridge, which has faithfully served for 51 years, proved inadequate now that the City of Albany is known as the Port of Albany, an up-to-date inland seaport to which come ocean-going vessels from the corners of the earth.”

If you’re confused by that, it means that part of the problem with getting traffic across the river was the traffic in the river, which required the bridge to swing open and halted what was then the only bridge for automobiles in Albany, and in the fact the only such bridge  since Peekskill, at a time when the major road from New York City was Route 9, the old New York Post Road. The swing span was notably slow, and it was promised that the new bridge would be able to open and close very quickly. Well, fairly quickly.

“A large vessel creeps up the majestic river, blowing as she nears the new bridge. The movable span in the structure smoothly and quickly rises, the ship passes through, down comes the span, and traffic is once more moving – within the space of approximate five minutes! Built with four lanes for autos, the new structure is expected to pass over 60,000 cars a day, compared with 26,000 for the old bridge.”

The bridge was outfitted with a pair of 250 horsepower electric motors to raise and lower the span, “said to be the heaviest movable span of its kind in this world. It is more than a city block long, and weights 2700 tons!” While the Maiden Lane bridge could be hand-operated by two men working a gear, the new bridge to Greenbush could only be operated by the motors, but it was assured that one motor could lift the span alone.

“Control for the span is located in a switch house mounted above the center of the movable portion, where the operator has an unobstructed view of both bridge and river. As a safety precaution, the entire system is interlocked so that the span cannot be raised until the gates at both ends are in position and the traffic signals for motorists have automatically turned red. When the span reaches the top of the towers a signal to proceed is flashed to boats on the river. With the span raised to its maximum height, river craft will have a clearance of 135 feet.”

We’ve written before about the debate that led to the replacement of the old Greenbush Bridge – that story is here.

The Gazette cutline notes that another bridge allowing vehicle traffic to cross the Hudson was under construction at the same time. That would be the Troy-Menands Bridge, a product of the Phoenix Bridge Co. of Phoenixville, PA, and which would also use General Electric motors in its lift. Unlike the first Dunn or the Maiden Lane, the Troy-Menands Bridge still stands.


  1. Andrew S Mace

    It might be worth noting that while that Troy-Menands Bridge indeed still stands, it was converted to a “fixed” bridge decades ago, I believe around the time of the construction of that part of I-787.

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      Carl Johnson

      Yes, no lifting of the Troy-Menands anymore. It’s the limiting factor for height in navigating up to the Troy dam, though I’m not sure that’s an issue even for the giant ships that fill an entire lock.

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