Charles Ellet

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Wheeling suspension bridge

Charles Ellet Jr. (born January 1, 1810 in Penn's Manor, Bucks County (Pennsylvania) , † June 21, 1862 in Cairo (Illinois) ) was an American civil engineer who built the first suspension bridge with suspension cables there.

Family and education

Ellet came from a respectable family. In 1837 he married Elvira Augusta Stuart Daniel, who came from one of the leading families in Virginia. His wife's family had slaves, but Ellet did not. They had a daughter, Mary V. Ellet Cabell (one of the founders of the Daughters of the American Revolution ) and a son, Charles Rivers Ellet, who served as a colonel in the Union Army during the US Civil War. His brother Alfred W. Ellet (1820–1895) was also a civil engineer and, as brigadier general, commanded the amphibious ram flotilla of Charles Ellet after his death in the US Civil War.

Ellet worked as a surveyor from 1827, first on the Susquehanna River under Canvas White and later as a surveyor and assistant engineer in the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (under Benjamin Wright ), but broke it off in Paris in 1830 at the École nationale des ponts et chaussées to study. He then traveled to study engineering works in France, Switzerland and Great Britain. He also got to know the suspension bridges with suspension cables made of wire by the Seguin brothers in France. In 1832 he returned to the USA.

Suspension bridges

He became known as the pioneer of suspension bridges in the USA. As early as 1832 he designed plans for a suspension bridge over the Potomac River with a span of 305 m, which he presented to the US Congress. He wanted to replace the Long Bridge from 1808 with a whole series of suspension bridges, but the plans were cautiously received and were ahead of their time. Besides, they had little confidence in him, as he was quite young and inexperienced as a civil engineer. Ellet went back to Benjamin Wright and worked as a surveyor for the New York and Erie Railroad and from 1835 on the James River and Kanawha Canal in Virginia, where he represented the absent Wright as chief engineer for four years.

When Lewis Wernwag's Colossus Bridge burned down over the Schuylkill River in 1838 (which at that time held a record in the USA with a clear span of 109 m), Ellet proposed a suspension bridge with wire cables as a replacement. In addition, he published the pamphlet A Popular Notice of Wire Suspension Bridges in 1839 , later reprinted in the American Railroad Journal. In 1840 he won the tender, construction at Fairmount (Pennsylvania) was delayed for financial reasons and the bridge was inaugurated in the spring of 1842. This was the first larger suspension bridge with suspension ropes with a span of 109 m (with five cables on each side). It cost $ 53,000. Also in 1840 he submitted a detailed draft of a suspension bridge over the Mississippi near St. Louis, but the city could not afford the costs at the time and a bridge was not built there until 1874. His main work is the Wheeling Suspension Bridge with a central span of 308 m over the Ohio River , which was built from 1846 and inaugurated November 15, 1849. He had already submitted drafts for this in 1836, 1841 and 1847. At that time it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. On May 14, 1854, it was badly damaged by a storm and Ellet rebuilt it. The bridge was renewed by Ellet's collaborators McComas in 1860 and Washington Roebling in 1872 and still stands today.

In 1847 he was commissioned to build a suspension bridge over the Niagara 3 km away from the Niagara Falls . The bridge was not completed after a dispute over funding (1848). There was a lawsuit over fees that Ellet levied for crossing on the auxiliary bridge. Elliot was the first to cross the Niagara Gorge on the auxiliary bridge . In 1851, Washington Roebling finally received the order and the suspension bridge was inaugurated in 1855 ( Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge ). Ellet made three other unrealized bridge designs ( Connecticut River near Middleton (Connecticut) 1848, bridge over the Ohio River near Cincinnati in 1849, bridge over the Potomac near Georgetown). Even before John August Roebling, he was the pioneer of suspension bridges with wire cables in the USA and also won the direct competitions against Roebling in the 1840s, when he was still working in bridge construction.

Other achievements as an engineer and American Civil War

He was also an engineer in railroad construction in Virginia and Pennsylvania and in hydraulic engineering, for example in measures for the navigability and control of floods in the Schuykill River and other rivers, for which he advocated the construction of water retention basins. For this purpose, he prepared a report for the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers on behalf of the US government in 1850, including proposals for the Mississippi Delta near New Orleans. He also realized that dikes harbor the risk of flooding in the delta.

A ship accident in 1854 (the smaller SS Vesta rammed the ten times larger SS Arctic) gave Ellet the idea of ​​attacking wooden ships with steam-powered ramming ships. He suggested this to the US Navy, but initially unsuccessful. It was not until the US Civil War that he was heard by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in 1862 and was commissioned to build a ram fleet ( United States Ram Fleet ) on the Mississippi. He converted four steamers on the Mississippi for this. He was accompanied by his brothers, nephews and his son Charles Rivers Ellet. In the battle for Memphis on the Mississippi, which gave the Confederates a complete defeat, Ellet led the ramming fleet as captain of the USS Queen of the West and, together with the Monarch , rammed the Confederate flagship CSS Colonel Lovell. Ellet was the only member of the Union fleet to be wounded in battle (a pistol bullet hit him in the knee) and died 15 days later in a hospital after contracting measles.

He also published on economic issues ( An essay on the laws of trade 1839), tariffs, and the failures of railroad companies.

When Karl Culmann visited the USA from 1848 to 1850, Ellet supported him by drafting his travel plan for studying engineering structures.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ ETH library on Culmann's trip to America