Railroads, Truss Bridges and the Rise of the Civil Engineer

by Donald C. Jackson, (A.M.ASCE), Civil Engineer; Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1977, Vol. 47, Issue 13, Pg. 37-41

Document Type: Feature article


The huge growth of the railroads during the nineteenth century was the direct result of herculean efforts on the part of civil engineers. Likewise, the development of the civil engineering profession was also dependent upon the opportunities and responsibilities incumbent with the development of America's railroads. A particularly important duty of the civil engineer was the construction of truss bridges, structures built by the thousands on American railroads. This article briefly reviews a few significant aspects of nineteenth century truss bridge design, and relates the influence of bridge failures to the development of the civil engineering profession. Famed bridge designer J.A.L. Waddell was a key force behind the birth of the modern consulting engineering firm.

Subject Headings: Bridge design | Rail transportation | Truss bridges | Consulting services | Professional development | Infrastructure construction | Trusses | Railroad bridges

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