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Gustav Lindenthal (May 21, 1850July 31, 1935) was a civil engineer who designed the Hell Gate Bridge among other bridges.
The Hell Gate Bridge circa 1917.
Lindenthal's work was greatly affected by his pursuit for perfection and his love of art. His structures not only serve the purpose they were designed for, but are aesthetically pleasing to the public eye. Having received little formal education and no degree in civil engineering, Lindenthal based his work on his prior experience and techniques used by other engineers of the time.

Lindenthal was born in Brnomarker, now Czech Republicmarker in 1850. Lindenthal began to receive practical training in 1866 when he was employed as a mason and carpenter (Petroski 1995). At the age of 18, Lindenthal left his family to set out to make a life of his own in Viennamarker, Austriamarker. When he arrived in Vienna he became an assistant in the engineering department for the Empress Elisabeth Railway of Austria. Two years later he joined the Union Construction Company, where he gained experience in building incline planes and railroads. Then a year later he decided to join the Swiss National Railroad, where he was hired on as a division engineer in charge of location and construction. While living in Vienna, he attended some public engineering lectures at a local university. However, he never did actually attend the university or receive a degree. Lindenthal in fact taught himselfmathematics, engineering theory, metallurgy, hydraulics, estimating, management, and everything else that a successful bridge engineer needed to know (Petroski 1995). Nevertheless, the lack of his formal education hindered him from further advancement in Europe, so he decided to immigrate to the United States in 1874. When he first arrived in the United States he was employed as a journeyman stone-mason for the memorial granite building of the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia (Janberg 2006). After completion of this project, Lindenthal went and worked for the Keystone Bridge Company on numerous projects. While working for this company, he gained valuable experience which propelled him to the status of bridge engineer.

At the age of eighty-five, Lindenthal succumbed to a long illness and died shortly after. Up until that point, he remained active as president and chief engineer of the North River Bridge Company in New Yorkmarker.

Standard Engineering Practices

Lindenthal had a difference in opinion with one of the standard engineering practices of the day. Trains were very popular during this time and made up a majority of large bridge building that took place. Trains being as heavy as they were made engineers greatly overcompensate and build bridges that were oversized, bulky, and expensive. Lindenthal pointed out that bridges did not have to support the full load of a train. The train moves across the bridge and displaces its load evenly. This was not how the bridges were tested to see if a design worked though. The train’s dead weight was simply added to the bridge, and if it did not hold, it was said to be structurally unstable. Lindenthal’s idea of not having to carry the full load allowed bridge designers to create bridges that were still stable, but at the same time much lighter and cheaper.

Structural Accomplishments

Gustav Lindenthal made bridges that reached new heights for his time. At the time of Hell Gate's completion, the bridge stood as the longest and heaviest steel bridge in the world. Gustav Lindenthal also expanded the idea of 'double decker' lanes on his bridges. The Queensboro Bridgemarker is one of the bridges Lindenthal designed that displays the double decker idea.

Construction Techniques

During the time Lindenthal practiced engineering, the railroad industry was expanding and replacing many wooden-truss bridges with stronger ones capable of handling the heavier locomotive loads. In order to accommodate these heavier trains, different construction materials were being utilized. The materials being considered by engineers like Lindenthal were reinforced concrete, cable, and steel. Steel and reinforced concrete were two main materials used in the truss bridges Gustav Lindenthal designed. The use of reinforced concrete was a relative new idea in bridge construction, with its first use in 1889.

The design of the Hell Gate Bridge required a different approach to bridge construction. Nearly all major members of Hell Gate are composed of smaller trusses. The erection of the Hell Gate was carried through without the assistance of any false work, or work that was not part of the actual bridge. This was accomplished by building the two halves of the arch simultaneously from each tower. The steel work was supported with the use of cables during construction to carry the load of the arches until they finally met at the center of the span. (Scientific American -)

Smithfield Street Bridge
In another instance, a bridge needed to be constructed over the Monongahela River, after the ferry, which was used for many years beforehand, became outdated. The first bridge, designed by John Roebling, continuously swayed and deflected, as well as being "shaky and loose." (Petroski 1994). Lindenthal was then given an opportunity to design a replacement, the Smithfield Street Bridgemarker in Pittsburghmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker. This bridge, completed in 1883 using the structural form of a lenticular truss, could withstand higher stresses, as well as using resources that made it more economical (Approximately $23,000 was saved simply by using these materials). "Lindenthal's use of steel instead of iron wherever possible was based upon economy as much as anything." (Petroski 1994).

Gustav Lindenthal Medal

The International Bridge Conference is the site of the annual presentation of the Gustav Lindenthal Medal. Winners have included the Millau Viaductmarker and the Juscelino Kubitschek Bridgemarker.



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