Time capsule buried under bridge by King Frederick William IV discovered after 168 years
A time capsule buried by a Prussian king has been sensationally discovered during work on an historic 19th-century bridge in the northern Polish town of Tczew.
The capsule was discovered in a granite niche in the bridge along with a commemorative plaque from the time of the bridge’s construction in 1851 when Tczew was the Prussian town of Dirschau.
The items were placed under the foundation stone, which was symbolically laid on 27 July that year by the Prussian king Frederick William IV.
The capsule is a heavy brass can weighing around 6-7 kilos with a height of about 15 cm. It is not yet known when the capsule will be opened, nor what it could contain, though there are hopes that the contents could be extremely valuable.
Local historian Łukasz Brządkowski, who was involved in the discovery, told TFN: “Usually contemporary coins and newspapers are placed inside time capsules, but the stone was laid under the bridge in Tczew by the Prussian king Frederick William IV himself. The construction of the bridge was a highly prestigious investment for Prussia as it was the longest bridge in the world at that time.
“We’re hoping, therefore, that the contents of the capsule will reflect the scale of the project and the king’s presence, perhaps there will be a medal struck specially for the start of work on the bridge.”
According to Brządkowski, finding the capsule was a huge stroke of luck.
He said: “We knew from historical sources that the Prussian king Frederick William IV laid the foundation stone and the capsule. However, finding both of these artefacts was a big surprise for us.”
The surprise was even greater because the extensive bridge was blown up on the first day of World War II. “The bridgehead where the foundation stone was laid was charged with explosives by the Germans, so we were sure that anything that had been there would have been destroyed,” he added.
The historian informed the company carrying out work on the bridge that there was a small chance that there was a foundation stone somewhere. The site manager informed his employees that the bridge might contain the prized object and asked them to keep their eyes peeled for anything unusual.
“When the pneumatic hammer operator touched the foundation stone, he stopped working immediately. However, slight damage can be seen on the commemorative plaque. The most important thing for us, however, is that the capsule itself has survived intact,” the historian reported.
The capsule and commemorative plaque, which under Polish law are now the property of the State Treasury, are currently at the county governor's office and deliberations are taking place on where to send the capsule to be opened.
“Archaeologists will open and examine the find, but it will certainly remain in Tczew and be exhibited in the town’s Art Factory museum,” Tczew county governor Mirosław Augustyn said.
The Tczew bridge is a true marvel of 19th-century Prussian engineering. It is the first example in Europe of a long-span openwork pipe bridge. It’s construction began in 1851 and was completed in 1857.
The 837-metre-long construction was the longest road-rail bridge in the 19th century and was built on the Eastern Railway route connecting Berlin with East Prussia. The construction was a huge and expensive undertaking.
However, when it opened, instead of a pompous celebration, a modest celebration took place because of the cholera epidemic and the illness of the Prussian king.
The bridge wasn't lucky. On September 1, 1939, the area was bombed and Polish sappers blew up parts of the bridge to prevent the Germans from crossing. It was reconstructed after the end of the war and the modernisation was completed in 1960.
As the years went by, it fell into greater disrepair. Finally, due to poor technical condition, it was closed to car traffic. Renovation started four years ago and is still ongoing today.
County governor Augustyn says that when the bridge reopens, the 19th century capsule might be replaced with a new one containing artefacts from the 21st century.