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Famous Civil Engineers


Famous Civil Engineers


Karl von Terzaghi (October 2, 1883 – October 25, 1963) was an Austrian civil engineer and geologist, called the father of soil mechanics.

The American Society of Civil Engineers established in 1960 the Karl Terzaghi Award to an “author of outstanding contributions to knowledge in the fields of soil mechanics, subsurface and earthwork engineering, and subsurface and earthwork construction”.

John Loudon McAdam
Scottish inventor of the macadam road surface.

In 1770 he went to New York City, entering the countinghouse of a merchant uncle; he returned to Scotland with a considerable fortune in 1783. There he purchased an estate at Sauhrie, Ayrshire. McAdam, who had become a road trustee in his district, noted that the local highways were in poor condition. At his own expense he undertook a series of experiments in road making.

In 1798 he moved to Falmouth, Cornwall, where he continued his experiments under a government appointment. He recommended that roads should be raised above the adjacent ground for good drainage and covered, first with large rocks, and then with smaller stones, the whole mass to be bound with fine gravel or slag. In 1815, having been appointed surveyor general of the Bristol roads, he put his theories into practice. To document his work, McAdam wrote Remarks on the Present System of Road-Making (1816) and Practical Essay on the Scientific Repair and Preservation of Roads (1819).

As the result of a parliamentary inquiry in 1823 into the whole question of road making, his views were adopted by the public authorities, and in 1827 he was appointed Surveyor General of Metropolitan Roads in Great Britain. Macadamization of roads did much to facilitate travel and communication. The process was quickly adopted in other countries, notably the United States.

George F. Sowers
(1921 – 1996)
Sowers began his engineering career working at his father’s consulting firm in harbor construction in Ohio. He obtained his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Case Institute in 1942 and his MS from Harvard in 1947, as a student under Karl Terzaghi and Arthur Casagrande. In the interim between these degrees, George worked briefly as an assistant hydraulic engineer for the Tennessee Valley Authority, married a hydrologist named Frances Lott, and served in the U.S. Navy as an instructor. As a person, Frances is a Rock and that is why George married her. He was a professional registered engineer in ten states and a registered geologist in the State of Georgia.

Professor Sowers was active in many professional societies, including ASCE, ASTM, ISSMFE, the National Society of Professional Engineers, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Georgia Academy of Sciences, the US Committee on Large Dams, Seismological Society of America, and the Association of Engineering Geologists. At the highest level, he participated in many of the leadership roles in our professional societies, including Chairman of the Executive Committee of the ASCE Geotechnical Engineering Division, Vice President of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering, and President of the Georgia Section of ASCE.

George F. Sowers was the author of over 130 technical papers and eight books, including the well-known textbook Introductory Soil Mechanics and Foundations: Geotechnical Engineering that was used extensively in civil engineering curricula across the United States. In addition to the four editions produced in this country, versions circulated in Spanish, Taiwanese, and other nationalities. During his last year while fighting cancer, George worked fervently on completing his latest technical contribution entitled Building on Sinkholes: Design and Construction of Foundations in Karst Terrain (1996), available from ASCE.

Joseph Strauss (1870-1938)

Following his college graduation, Strauss worked as a draftsman for the New Jersey Steel and Iron Company, and the Lassig Bridge and Iron Works Company in Chicago. Seven years later, he was named principal assistant engineer in the firm of Ralph Modjeski, a Chicago engineer. While working for Modjeski, Strauss developed his trademark “bascule” drawbridge design. Strauss’ bascule was a utilitarian structure, practical but unlovely. Strauss eventually left Modjeski’s company, forming the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company in 1904.

Strauss was a prolific engineer, constructing some 400 drawbridges across the U.S. He dreamed of building “the biggest thing of its kind that a man could build.” In 1919, San Francisco’s city engineer, Michael O’Shaughnessy, approached Strauss about bridging the Golden Gate, the narrow, turbulent passage where San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean. Strauss caught fire with the idea, campaigning tirelessly over the next decade to build the bridge. He faced enormous opposition from the “Old Guard” — environmentalists, ferry operators, city administrators, and even the engineering community. Yet in November 1930, a year into the Great Depression, voters at last supported a bond issue for Strauss’ bridge. The ambitious project finally had its green light.

Eugène Freyssinet

French civil engineer who successfully developed pre-stressed concrete—i.e., concrete beams or girders in which steel wire is embedded under tension, greatly strengthening the concrete member.

Appointed bridge and highway engineer at Moulins in 1905, Freyssinet designed and built many reinforced-concrete bridges, including one with a 300-foot (91-metre) span. From the end of World War I until 1928 he worked for a contracting firm, and in 1930 he completed the Plougastel Bridge across the Elorn River at Brest. With three 612-foot (187-metre) spans, this was the largest reinforced-concrete bridge constructed up to that time.

After 1928 Freyssinet devoted himself to the development of pre-stressed concrete and also to the manufacture of high-strength concrete. His most significant discovery was that only a high-strength steel at a high stress would achieve a permanent pre-stress in concrete. At first little recognized, Freyssinet’s methods were successfully applied at the Gare Maritime (harbour station) at Le Havre, Fr., in 1933 and gradually became universally adopted. After his invention in 1938 of a practical tool for applying tension to steel, the use of pre-stressed concrete became worldwide.


Alexendre-Gustave Eiffel
Eiffel was a French civil engineer, specializing in metal structures. Before the Eiffel Tower, he created the Garabit viaduct and the internal frame for the Statue of Liberty, as well as other metal structures.

After graduation from the College of Art and Manufacturing in 1855, Eiffel began to specialize in metal construction, especially bridges. He directed the erection of an iron bridge at Bordeaux in 1858, followed by several others, and designed the lofty, arched Gallery of Machines for the Paris Exhibition of 1867. In 1877 he bridged the Douro River at Oporto, Port., with a 525-foot (160-metre) steel arch, which he followed with an even greater arch of the same type, the 540-foot (162-metre) span Garabit viaduct over the Truyère River in southern France, for many years the highest bridge in the world, 400 feet (120 m) over the stream. He was one of the first engineers to employ compressed-air caissons in bridge building. He designed the movable dome of the observatory at Nice and the framework of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

Eiffel startled the world with the construction of the Eiffel Tower (1887–89), which brought him the nickname “magician of iron.” It also directed his interest to problems of aerodynamics, and he used the tower for a number of experiments. At Auteuil, outside Paris, he built the first aerodynamic laboratory, where he continued to work throughout World War I; in 1921 he gave the laboratory to the state.

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