Civil Engineer. He is best known as the builder of the world's first modern steel suspension bridges, the most famous of which is the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. He was born in Muhlhausen, Prussia, now part of Germany, the son of a tobacconist. His mother, Friederike Dorothea Roebling had great dreams about the future of her children and she recognized young John's potential at an early age. By dint of stringent economies and efficient management of the family's modest finances, she managed to send the boy to the best schools of the neighborhood, and later to the great University of Berlin. He graduated with a degree in civil engineering from the Royal Polytechnic Institute of Berlin in 1826. In 1831 Roebling and his younger brother Karl immigrated to America to found a farming community in harmony with their Elegelian religious beliefs, in what is now Saxonburg, Pennsylvania. In 1836, he married Johanna Herting. They had three sons, Washington Augustus (1837-1926), Ferdinand William (1842-1917) and Charles Gustavus (1849-1918). When the farming community failed in 1837, Roebling accepted the position of Pennsylvania State Engineer, with responsibility for surveying and supervision of the construction of canals, locks, and dams. Frustrated over the limitations of hempen ropes and hawsers in heavy hauling applications on the state's canals, Roebling foresaw the need for something much stronger and longer-lasting. In 1840, he obtained a copy of a German technical paper which described the experiments in the fabrication of a rope out of steel wire. Immediately the germ of an idea took root in the mind of the young engineer and he began to experiment with wire rope at his farm in Saxonburg. In 1841 Roebling invented the twisted steel wire-rope cable, an invention which immediately was successful on the canals and also foreshadowed the use of wire cable supports for the decks of suspension bridges. It was shortly thereafter that Roebling adapted his new rope to the suspension bridge principle. In 1844 he built an efficient and inexpensive suspension bridge carrying an aqueduct across the Allegheny River. Three years later, in 1847, he built the wire rope suspension bridge across the Monongahela at Pittsburgh. In 1849, needing to expand capacity, Roebling moved his family and his factory from Saxonburg to Trenton, New Jersey, to be closer to the factory which supplied his wire. In addition to bridges, Roebling developed his wire rope to be used in electrical transmission, the elevator industry, and for mining and marine uses. His engineering skills were helping to develop a large and varied market for his products. In 1850, he was engaged upon a project that was to startle the world. It was a suspension bridge across the gorge of the Niagara River. When it was finished in 1855, and when a fully-loaded freight train moved across the gorge on the bridge without incident, the accomplishment was heralded by the press of the day as one of the wonders of the world and Roebling was rocketed to worldwide fame and recognition. John Roebling spent a lot of time in the 1860's trying to convince the people of New York city of the practicality of a suspension bridge to connect Brooklyn and Manhattan. But it took the extreme traveling difficulties caused by the winter of 1866-1867 to finally get him the contract award. However in 1869, while looking for the site for one of the bridge's towers, a ferry boat crashed into a pier on which he was standing and crushed his foot. He died from the tetanus poisoning that developed from the injury on July 22, 1869, before any of the major construction had started. Roebling's masterpiece, the Brooklyn Bridge was left to be completed under the direction of his son Washington A. Roebling and his daughter in law Emily in 1883.
Bio by: Edward Parsons