The Full Wiki

More info on John A. Roebling

John A. Roebling: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

John Augustus Roebling (born Johann August Röbling, June 12, 1806 in Mühlhausenmarker - July 22, 1869) was a German-born civil engineer famous for his wire rope suspension bridge designs, in particular, the design of the Brooklyn Bridgemarker.

Early life

Roebling was the youngest of four children. He was baptized in the Lutheran church Divi Blasii at Mühlhausen. As a young boy he enjoyed music such as playing the flute and the piano. Roebling also exhibited great artistic talent for sketches and paintings. His father maintained a small tobacco shop but the business was not large enough to provide livelihood for all three of his sons. Roebling's sister Friederike Amalie married Carl August Meissner a wealthy merchant in the town, and his oldest brother Herman Christian Roebling prepared to take over the tobacco shop.


At first John attended the public school Gymnasium in Mühlhausenmarker Recognizing his intelligence at a young age, Roebling's mother, Friederike Dorothea Roebling arranged for him to leave his home to be tutored in mathematics and science at Erfurt by Ephraim Solomon Unger. He went to Erfurt when he was 15. In 1824, he passed his Surveyor's examination and returned to his home for a year. Next, in 1824 he enrolled for two semesters at the Bauakademie in Berlin where he studied architecture and engineering under Rabe, bridge construction and foundation construction under Dietleyn, hydraulics under Eytelwein, and languages. Additionally, Roebling attended lectures of the famous German philosopher Georg Hegel. Roebling developed a deep interest in natural philosophy and many years later he worked on a 1000 page treatise about his own concepts of the universe. In 1825 he got a government job at Arnsberg, Westfalen where he worked on military roadbuilding for the next four years. During this period he made some sketches for suspension bridges. In 1829 he returned to his home to work out his final thesis and prepare for his second engineers' examination. However, for some unexplained reason, he never took the examination.

Fleeing Europe

On May 22, 1831, Roebling left Germanymarker with his brother Carl and a visionary named Johann Adolphus Etzler. Economic mobility and career advancement were very difficult for engineers in Prussian society. This unfortunate state of affairs had been brought about by the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted until 1815. This period in European history left Prussia with a great deal of political unrest, as authoritarian governments traded places with democratic ones. Etzler had ideas about creating a utopia in the United States but disputes arose en route. The group split up. John and Carl purchased 1582 acres (6.4 km²) of land on October 28, 1831, in Butler County, Pennsylvaniamarker with the intent to establish a German settlement, called Saxonburgmarker. Most of the other settlers stayed on with Etzler.


John Roebling could not have arrived in the United Statesmarker at a worse time. The nation was gripped by an 8-year financial depression. Farmers everywhere were deeply affected by it. A dominant mode of thought in America at the time was manifest destiny and the opening up of the West, and so transportation between eastern industrial hubs and frontier farming markets had become a matter of both national and popular interest.Many transportation projects were underway near the location he chose for his colony, but instead of continuing an engineering profession, he initially took up farming for a living. After five years he married Johanna Herting Roebling, a tailor's daughter, and had nine children with her over the next decade.

Son: Washington A. Roebling (b. 1837, d. 1926)Daughter: Laura R. Methfessel (b. 1840, d. 1873)Son: Ferdinand W. Roebling (b. 1842, d. 1917)Daughter: Elvira R. Stewart (b. 1844, d. 1871)Daughter: Josephine R. Jarvis (b. 1847)Son: Charles Gustavus Roebling (b. 9-Dec-1849, d. 1918)Son: Edmund Roebling (b. 1854, d. 1930)Son: William Roebling (b. 1856, d. 1860)Daughter: Hannah Roebling (died in infancy)

Agrarian work was unsatisfactory to John Roebling, and the colony attracted very few settlers. In 1837, after the death of his brother and the birth of his first child, he returned to engineering as a vocation.

Roebling's first engineering work in America was devoted to improving river navigation and canal building. He spent three years surveying for railway lines across the Allegheny Mountains, from Harrisburgmarker to Pittsburghmarker, for the state of Pennsylvaniamarker. In 1840, he wrote to suspension bridge designer Charles Ellet, Jr., offering to help with the design of a bridge near Philadelphia:

The study of suspension bridges formed for the last few years of my residence in Europe my favourite occupation ...
Let but a single bridge of the kind be put up in Philadelphia, exhibiting all the beautiful forms of the system to full advantage, and it needs no prophecy to foretell the effect which the novel and useful features will produce upon the intelligent minds of the Americans.

Roebling's workshed in Saxonburg, adjacent to a replica of the Brooklyn Bridge

In 1841, at Saxonburg, he began producing wire rope. During this time, canal boats from Philadelphia often were transported up and over the Allegheny Mountains on railroad cars to access waterways on the other side of the mountains so that the boats could travel onward to Pittsburgh. The system of inclines and levels that moved the boats and conventional railroad cars was a state-owned enterprise, the Allegheny Portage Railroadmarker. The railroad cars were moved up and down the inclines by a long loop of hemp rope up to nine inches in circumference. The hemp ropes were very expensive but they rendered poor service life. Roebling remembered an article he read about wire ropes. Soon after, he started developing a 7-strand wire rope at a ropewalk he created on the meadow of his farm.

In 1844, Roebling won a bid to replace the wooden canal aqueduct across the Allegheny River. His design encompassed seven spans of 163 feet, each consisting of a wooden trunk to hold the water supported by a continuous cable made of many parallel wires, wrapped tightly together, on each side of the trunk. This was followed in 1845 by building a suspension bridge over the Monongahela River at Pittsburgh. In 1848, Roebling undertook the construction of four suspension aqueducts on the Delaware and Hudson Canal. During this period, he moved to Trenton, New Jerseymarker.

Roebling's next project, starting in 1851, was a railroad bridge connecting the New York Central and Great Western Railway of Canada over the Niagara Rivermarker, which would take four years. The bridge, with a clear span of 825 feet, was supported by four, ten-inch wire cables, and had two levels, one for vehicles and one for rail traffic.

While the Niagara bridge was being built, Roebling undertook another railway suspension bridge, across the Kentucky River which required a clear span of 1,224 feet. The anchorage and stone towers were completed, and the cable wire delivered along with the material for the superstructure, when the railway company collapsed: the bridge was left uncompleted temporarily. It was later finished in the form of a truss bridge.

In 1859, Roebling completed another suspension bridge at Pittsburgh, this one of 1,030 feet, divided into two spans of 344 feet each, and two side spans of 171 feet each.

The outbreak of the American Civil War brought a temporary halt to Roebling's work. But during the war, in 1863, building resumed on a bridge over the Ohio River at Cincinnatimarker which he had started in 1856 that was stopped due to financing difficulties; the bridge was finished in 1867. The Cincinnati-Covington Bridge, later named after him John A.marker Roebling Suspension Bridgemarker, would become the world's longest suspension bridge at the time of completion.

In 1867 Roebling started design work on what is now called the Brooklyn Bridgemarker, spanning the East Rivermarker in New York. One day in 1869 he was standing at the edge of a dock, working on fixing the location where the bridge would be built, when his foot was crushed by an arriving ferry. His injured toes were amputated. He refused further medical treatment and wanted to cure his foot by "water therapy" (continuous pouring of water over the wound). His condition deteriorated. It was clear he had incurable tetanus, and 24 days after the accident he was dead.

Roebling came up with, “an equilibrium strength approach, in which equilibrium is always satisfied but compatibility of deformations is not enforced.” This was essentially an approximation method similar to the force method. First, Roebling found the dead and live loads. Roebling then divided the load between the cables and the stays. Roebling added a large safety factor to the divided loads and then solved for the forces. This approach gave a sufficiently accurate analysis of the structure given the assumption that the structure was ductile enough to handle such deformation (Buonopane, 2006).


Roebling's son Washington Roebling and his daughter-in-law Emily Warren Roebling continued his work on the Brooklyn Bridge. His 2nd son Ferdinand expanded his wire rope business. Roebling's 3rd son Charles Roebling designed and invented a huge 80 ton wire rope machine and founded the town of Roebling, New Jerseymarker where the John A. Roebling's Sons company steel mill was built. His grandson, Washington A. Roebling, II, died on the RMS Titanicmarker. His great-grandson, Donald Roebling was a noted philanthropist and inventor who devised the amphtrack.


External links


  1. Schuyler, Hamilton, The Roeblings, 1931, p.9, Princeton NJ
  2. Roebling, Washington A., Washington Roebling's Father, 2008, ASCE Press, Reston VA
  3. Güntherroth, Nele, Roebling's Development to being an Engineer, 2006, Proceedings John A Roebling Symposium, ASCE, Reston VA
  4. Historic Saxonburg and Its Neighbors, Ralph Goldinger, ISBN 1-55856-043-2
  5. Steinman, David B. & Watson, Sara Ruth, Bridges and their Builders, 1941
  6. McCullough, David, The Great Bridge, 1982, p.91
  • Reier, Sharon. The Bridges of New York. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000.
  • McCullough, David. The Great Bridge. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

Buonopane, S. (2006). The Roeblings and the Stayed Suspension Bridge:Its Development and Propagation in 19th Century United States.

Tolzmann, Don Heinrich. John A. Roebling and His Suspension Bridge on the Ohio River. Milford, Ohio: Little Miami Publishing Co., 2007

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address