Wilhelm Ritter: Teacher of Maillart and Ammann

by David P. Billington, (F.ASCE), Prof.; Dept. of Civ. Engrg., Princeton Univ., Princeton, N.J.,

Serial Information: Journal of the Structural Division, 1980, Vol. 106, Issue 5, Pg. 1103-1116

Document Type: Journal Paper


This paper seeks to make the contemporary structural engineering profession aware of a 19th century tradition of education which has been almost lost. That educational tradition possessed ideas which do not go out of date and which can stimulate a healthy review of present research and teaching in structural engineering. A good case can be made for the judgment that the two greatest bridge designers of the 20th century were Robert Maillart (1872-1940) using concrete and Othmar Ammann (1879-1965) using steel. It is a remarkable fact that both had the same Swiss educational background and even the same professor for bridge design: Wilhelm Ritter (1847-1906). Because it seems correct to credit Ritter with direct influence, the substance of this present paper is to characterize that influence by briefly sketching first the engineering tradition within which Ritter studied, second his own career as a teacher and researcher in bridge engineering, and finally the ideas central to Ritter's vision of bridge design.

Subject Headings: Bridge design | Engineering education | Steel bridges | Professional societies | Concrete bridges | Distinguished engineers | Faculty | Professional development

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