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John A. Roebling 1806-1869

Inventor, civil engineer, and author born in Muhlhausen, Thuringia, Prussia, on June 12, 1806, the son of Christoph Polycarpus and Friederike Dorothea Roebling. The Roeblings were an old family that traced their ancestry to the sixteenth century. John’s father was a tobacconist. In 1823 John Roebling left Muhlhausen to attend the Royal Polytechnic School at Berlin where he studied architecture, bridge construction, hydraulics and philosophy under Hegel. He received a degree in civil engineering in 1826, and spent three years as superintendent of public works in Westphalia, before emigrating to the United States in 1831. After marrying and settling in western Pennsylvania, his wife Johanna gave birth to nine children and he devoted his energies to farming and founding the town of Saxonburg which is located north of Pittsburgh.

Tiring quickly of farming, he secured work for several years as an engineer on the Beaver River and the upper Allegheny River before entering the service of the State of Pennsylvania to survey and locate three lines of railway across the Allegheny Mountains from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. He then began the manufacture of wire rope used in the construction of the first suspension aqueduct in the United States.

Roebling’s first contract for construction of an acqueduct across the Allegheny River was completed in May 1845, that was comprised of seven spans of 162 feet each, consisting of a wooden trunk to hold the water and supported by continuous wire cable on each side, of seven inches diameter. Two years later Roebling erected the Monogahela suspension bridge at Pittsburg, consisting of spans of 188 feet each, supported by two four-and-one-half inch cables. In 1848 he undertook construction of a series of four suspension aqueducts on the line of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, connecting the anthracite coal regions of Pennsylvania with the tidewater of the Hudson River.

Roebling next accepted an invitation to make plans and estimates for a bridge over the chasm of the Niagara River. This bridge had a span of 825 feet supported by four wire cables of ten-inch diameter each and two floors, and connected the New York Central Railroad and the Great Western Railway of Canada. Construction started on the bridge in 1851 and was completed three years later. Simultaneous with this railway suspension bridge, Roebling drew up plans for another railway suspension bridge across the Kentucky River, on the line of the Southern Railroad leading from Cincinnati to Chattanooga. The length of this bridge, 1,030 feet, divided into two spans of 344 feet each and two side spans of 171 feet each. Construction started in 1856 and stopped; resumed in 1863. The bridge was completed in 1867 just as plans for a bridge across the East River connecting New York and Brooklyn matured. Roebling was chosen as chief engineer.

In 1869 Roebling published "Long and Short Span Railway Bridges" and died as a result of an accident that same year in New York City.

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