John Roebling is an outstanding civil engineer who was born in Germany and earned fame in the United States. His primary invention is a steel wire rope, and it allowed Roebling to create his industrial complex. Its production allowed him to realize his other passion – suspension bridges. His most famous work in this direction is the Brooklyn Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan across the East River.


John Roebling was born in Mühlhausen, Prussia, in 1806 and, from an early age, was engaged in mathematics and sciences thanks to the support of his mother. He finished the hometown gymnasium and then spent two semesters at Bauakademie, where he studied civil engineering, in particular, the construction of dams, tunnels, and bridges.

Roebling also attended a lecture course by the famous philosopher Georg Hegel and, throughout his life, showed a great interest in natural philosophy and even worked on his work on the structure of the universe.

After graduating from the Bauakademie in 1825, Roebling received government work on military road building. During this period, the engineer has already begun sketching the suspension bridges. Roebling worked for the government for three years, after which he left for the United States in 1831 with his brother.

After several unsuccessful farming attempts and disappointments in agricultural business, he returned to engineering, finding a job in Harrisburg. While working on Portage Railroad, Roebling got the brilliant idea to replace hemp tugs with wire cables. After the first success and sharply increased demand for invented products, the engineer moved to Trenton, New Jersey, and built a large industrial complex specializing in wire production for his company.

The projects of John A. Roebling’s Sons Company were primarily suspension bridges and aqueducts. During his life, Roebling has developed dozens of designs and completed twelve structures, including, for example, suspension bridges in Pittsburgh and Niagara Falls. Together with his eldest son, Washington, he built a bridge over the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington.

The engineer’s final project was a bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan with a main span of 486 meters. Its design was approved in 1867, and Roebling was appointed chief engineer of the project. However, the construction of this bridge ultimately cost the engineer his life.

During the final measurements of the future Brooklyn Bridge, one of the ferries fell on his leg. Roebling initially wanted to stick to his method of treatment, “water therapy,” an alternative medicine method in which water is continuously poured onto a wound. Despite this, the engineer still received first aid, and the surgeon amputated his injured fingers.

However, after moving home, the man sent the doctor away and continued his therapy using unboiled water from a local well. This attitude to the wound led to the fact that Roebling died of tetanus in 1869, three weeks after the incident. His son and his sister-in-law Emily Warren Roebling completed his work on the Brooklyn Bridge, and construction was finished in 1883.

Roebling left behind a rich legacy, consisting of the wire rope he invented, and the company, which was headed by members of his family until 1952. John A. Roebling’s Sons Company is noted in history as a cable supplier for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge to this day remains a miracle of engineering, an amazingly beautiful suspension bridge, to the creation of which Roebling was involved thanks to his invention.

John Augustus Roebling
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