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Template:Lead too short Template:Infobox Architect Washington Augustus Roebling (May 26, 1837 – July 21, 1926) was an American civil engineer best known for his work on the Brooklyn Bridge, which was initially designed by his father John A. Roebling.


The eldest son of John Roebling, Washington was born in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, a town co-founded by his father and his uncle, Karl Roebling. His early schooling consisted of tutoring by Riedel and under Henne in Pittsburgh. He eventually attended the Trenton Academy and acquired further education at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, from 1854-57. While attending Rensselaer, Roebling became a member of the Pi Eta Scientific Society, now known as the Rensselaer Society of Engineers. Following his graduation as civil engineer (C.E.), he joined his father to work as a bridge builder. From 1858 to 1860, he assisted his father on the Allegheny Bridge project, living in a boarding house on Penn Street. Following the completion of the bridge, he returned to Trenton to work in his father's wire mill.

On April 16, 1861, Roebling enlisted as a private in the New Jersey Militia. Seeking more than garrison duty, he resigned after two months and re-enlisted with the New York Artillery, United States Army. During the American Civil War, Roebling saw action repeatedly, most notably at the Battle of Gettysburg. Days before the battle started, he noted the movement of Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army toward the North while conducting air balloon reconnaissance. On July 2, 1863, Roebling was one of the initial soldiers on Little Round Top. Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, for whom Roebling was aide-de-camp, ordered him to find a regiment to secure its important tactical position. The first regiment he came upon was commanded by Col. Strong Vincent of the V Corps, whose brigade immediately occupied the hill and defended the left flank of the Army of the Potomac against repeated Confederate attacks. Roebling assisted in hoisting artillery up the hill with several others.

Roebling was brevetted lieutenant colonel in December 1864 for gallant service, ending his service brevetted colonel. From mid-1865 to 1867, he worked with his father on the Cincinnati-Covington Bridge (now the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge). While traveling in Europe to research bridges and caisson foundations, his only son, John A. Roebling, II, was born. After returning in 1868, Washington became assistant engineer on the Brooklyn Bridge, and rose to chief engineer after his father's death in mid-1869. He made several important improvements on the bridge design and further developed bridge building techniques.

Decompression sickness ("the bends") due to working in compressed air under the river, combined with over work, shattered his health and rendered him unable to visit the site, but he continued to oversee the Brooklyn project to successful completion in 1883.[1] His wife, Emily Warren Roebling, took over the day-to-day supervision and visits to the site and successfully lobbied for retention of him as chief engineer. Roebling would battle the after-effects from the disease and various treatments the rest of his life.

Following the Brooklyn project, Roebling and his wife lived in Troy, New York, from 1884–88, as their only child, John A. Roebling, II, also attended the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). When their son graduated, the Roeblings returned to Trenton, moving to 191 West State Street in 1892. From 1902-1903 Roebling served as President of the Alumni Association at Rensselaer. His wife Emily died in 1903 from stomach cancer. Roebling remarried in 1908 to Cornelia Witsell Farrow of Charleston, South Carolina.

His namesake, Washington Augustus Roebling II, only son of his brother Charles G. Roebling, went down with the RMS Titanic in 1912.

Following the sudden death of his nephew, Karl Gustavus Roebling, in 1921, Roebling again became president of John A. Roebling's Sons Company at age 84. He died in 1926, after being bedridden for two months, at age 89.

Roebling's most passionate hobby was collecting rocks and minerals. His collection of over 16,000 specimens was donated by his son, John A. Roebling, II, to the Smithsonian Institution and became an important part of its mineral and gem collection.

A plethora of his manuscripts, photographs, and publications, can be found in the Roebling collections at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

See also[]


  1. Butler WP (2004). "Caisson disease during the construction of the Eads and Brooklyn Bridges: A review". Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine 31 (4): 445–59. PMID 15686275. Retrieved 2009-03-11. 

Further reading[]

  • McCullough, David. (1972). The Great Bridge. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-21213-3
  • McCullough, David. (1992). Brave Companions. New York, NY: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-671-79276-8
  • Sayenga, Donald. (1983; 2nd ed. 2001) Ellet and Roebling ISBN 0-930973-25-9
  • Schuyler, Hamilton. (1931). The Roeblings: A Century of Engineers, Bridge Builders, and Industrialists. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Steinman, David B. (1945). The Builders of the Bridge. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

External links[]

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