Great Engineers & Scientists Blog

Great Engineers & Scientists

In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

So who do you think of when you hear "Great Engineer"? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add him or her to the pantheon. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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John A. Roebling (1806 – 1869): Designer of the Brooklyn Bridge

Posted March 19, 2012 12:25 PM by SavvyExacta
Pathfinder Tags: July 22 June 12

Education and Early Career

Roebling was born Johann August Röbling. He grew up in Mühlhausen, Prussia, learning to play musical instruments and received tutoring in mathematics and science. He later studied architecture, engineering, bridge and foundation construction, hydraulics, and languages. From 1825-1829 Roebling built military roads for the government

In 1831, Roebling left Prussia with one of his brothers. This was a time of political unrest in Prussia; the Napoleonic Wars had ended in 1815 leaving economic mobility difficult for engineers. The brothers purchased 1,582 acres in Pennsylvania. They farmed for about five years.

Roebling returned to engineering. Manifest Destiny was a dominant mode of thought in the 1840s and there were opportunities for him to work in river navigation and canal building. He became a Pennsylvania state engineer, surveying and supervising the construction of canals, locks, and dams.

He began producing wire rope to replace the hemp rope used to transport canal boats over the Allegheny Mountains via railroad car. He helped create the Allegheny Aqueduct and later a suspension bridge over the Monongahela River. Roebling went on to create other bridges in Trenton, New Jersey, and connecting Canada and the U.S. via the Niagara River.

The Cincinnati-Covington Bridge was built over the Ohio River in 1867 and was later renamed the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. At the time, it was the world's largest suspension bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge

Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge had a main span of 1,595.5 feet, making it the longest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge was built to link Manhattan and Brooklyn. Its design boasted:

  • Steel wire construction
  • Stronger, longer, and larger than any other bridge at the time
  • Roadways for vehicles
  • Cable car transportation
  • Elevated pedestrian promenade

Pressurized pneumatic caissons were sunk to depths of 44.5 feet (Brooklyn) and 78.5 feet (Manhattan) to provide a dry underwater space for workers to dig the bridge's foundations down to solid rock. Many workers suffered from the bends upon leaving the high-pressure atmosphere.

John Roebling's son Washington was permanently impaired by the bends as a result of his work on the Brooklyn Bridge. Washington's wife Emily actively supervised the construction after that time.

The Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 but John Roebling was unable to attend. He had died in 1869, shortly after construction began. His foot was crushed in an accident on site; he died of tetanus 24 days later.


Great Buildings: John Augustus Roebling

The Library of Congress: Roebling and the Brooklyn Bridge

Wikipedia: John A. Roebling [image]


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