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Hudson Memorial Bridge as a SteelArch”, and where he later completedhis doctorate with the thesis “Suspen-sion Bridges and Cantilevers: TheirEconomic Proportions and LimitingSpans”. After a few years in academia,he returned to New York to work onbridges such as the Hell Gate and theSciotoville Bridges under noted bridgeengineer Gustav Lindenthal.In 1920, Dr Steinman met HoltonD. Robinson, who had been respon-sible for the construction of the Wil-liamsburg Bridge cables and who wasin charge of design and constructionfor the Manhattan Bridge. Their firstcollaboration was an international de-sign competition for a bridge in Floria-napolis, Brazil, which they won with anunusual and innovative design (
Fig. 2
).When completed in 1926, the 340 mmain span was the longest suspensionbridge in South America, and the lon-gest eyebar suspension bridge in theworld.Steinman’s strength in the theoreti-cal aspects of bridge engineering andRobinson’s practical experience inconstruction complemented eachother, and the office of Robinson andSteinman began obtaining commis-sions for significant structures, such asthe Carquinez Bridge in 1927 (the sec-ond largest cantilever truss in the US),the Mount Hope and Grand Mere sus-pension bridges in 1929, the St. Johns(
Fig. 3
) and Waldo-Hancock suspen-sion bridges in 1931, and the Deer Isleand the Thousand Island suspensionbridges in 1938–1939.Over 25 years after presenting his the-sis at Columbia University, Steinmanhad the satisfaction of preparing finaldesign plans for the Henry HudsonBridge, with only minor changes withrespect to the design shown in his the-sis. This 256 m span became the longestfixed arch, and the longest plate girderarch span in the world.The collapse of the Tacoma Bridge in1940 led him to conduct a series of studies and mathematical modeling (atwhich he excelled) to analyze the rela-tionship between the weight and depth
Structural Engineering International 1/2008
Eminent Structural Engineer 95
Eminent Structural Engineer: David B. Steinman (1886–1960)
Maria Grazia Bruschi,
Structural Engineer, Parsons, New York, USA
 Against the city’s gleaming spires, Above the ships that ply the stream, A bridge of haunting beauty stands –Fulfillment of an artist’s dream.– D. B. Steinman,“Brooklyn Bridge – Nightfall”
The Bridge Builder
David Barnard Steinman (
Fig. 1
) wasborn in 1886 in New York City, the sonof immigrants. His first home was in theshadows of the then just-built BrooklynBridge, and growing up he witnessedthe construction of two other majorsuspension bridges, the Williamsburgand the Manhattan Bridges. This expe-rience was to mark him for life.Gifted with mathematical prowess, hestarted taking college classes at CityCollege of New York even before com-pleting high school, obtaining his Bach-elor-of-Science degree
 summa cumlaude
in 1906. As a student he managedto gain access to the worksite and ob-serve the cable spinning operations onthe Williamsburg Bridge. He went onto study Civil Engineering at ColumbiaUniversity, where he graduated withthe thesis “The Design of the Henry
Fig. 1: David B. SteinmanFig. 2: Florianapolis Bridge (Photocredit: John Schmid)Fig. 3: St. Johns Bridge
96 Eminent Structural Engineer
Structural Engineering International 1/2008
of girders, stay bracing and rigidity inrelation to the aerodynamic stability of suspension bridges. He concluded thatit would be “
more scientific to eliminatethe cause than to build up the structureto resist the effects
” of wind on the struc-ture, and this led him to suggest the useof “
open spaces in the floor 
” (such asby using open steel grid deck) or theaddition of wind-deflecting elements.In spite of Steinman’s prominence inthose days, he was not a member of theboard of engineers appointed to inves-tigate the collapse, but his publicationson the subject during those years wereextensively referenced in a 1952 reportby the Federal Advisory Board on theInvestigation of Suspension Bridges.One of the many projects that hadbeen postponed in the wake of theTacoma Narrows Bridge collapse andWorld War II was the crossing of theMackinac Straits in Michigan’s UpperPeninsula – a project identified as farback as 1888 by railroad magnate Cor-nelius Vanderbilt. By 1950, tourism inthe area had rendered the ferry serviceinadequate and a serious move wasmade to build a bridge in the hope of spurring year-round economic devel-opment. Having established his repu-tation as a suspension bridge designerand expert in the area of aerodynamicstability, Steinman managed to becomeselected to design this major bridge(
Fig. 4
).Although the 1158 m main span wasshorter than Golden Gate’s 1280 m,the Mackinac Bridge attained thetitle of the world’s longest suspensionbridge from anchorage to anchoragewhen it opened in 1957. The design in-corporated some of the features iden-tified during the study of the TacomaNarrows Bridge collapse: deep trusses,a partially open grid deck, and a centertie, resulting in an inherently stable su-perstructure.
Steinman’s Inspiration
For Steinman, the Mackinac Bridgerepresented the realization of the“American Dream”, the dream of op-portunity for everyone according toability or achievement, and inspiredhim to write:
 As far back as in 1893, when I was anewsboy selling papers near the Brook-lyn Bridge, I told the other newsboysthat someday I was going to buildbridges like the famous structure that towered majestically above us. Theylaughed at me. Now I can point to 400bridges I have built around the world,and to my masterwork – the MackinacBridge – the greatest of all.
And, in fact, the Brooklyn Bridge wasa major inspiration muse for Steinman.Early on, the famous gothic arches of its towers found their way into his sig-nature bridges, albeit executed in steelrather than in masonry. Steinman’s ad-miration for its builders, the Roeblingfamily, is apparent in his writings.
When after 60 years of service, and athree-fold increase in the traffic load-ings with respect to the original de-sign load, it was time to remodel theBrooklyn Bridge, the City of New Yorkengaged the consulting engineeringservices of D. B. Steinman. In his ownwords, “
Much reconstruction work wasnecessary, but every effort was made toretain the original appearance of thebridge.
He was successful in this, and in 1953the American Institute of Steel Con-struction awarded this reconstruction aspecial citation for its artistic achieve-ment, in which he took much pride.
Steinman’s Legacy
Although Steinman had the oppor-tunity to work on many types of bri-dges, his technological legacy is almostalways associated with suspensionbridges.One design innovation developed bySteinman is the use of a center tie torigidly connect the superstructure tothe main cables, as a way of stiffen-ing and stabilizing the superstructure.North America’s first flexible plategirder suspension bridges, the twovery slender Thousand Island suspen-sion bridges, were designed by Stein-man.
Motivated by steel economiesrendered necessary during the De-pression years, and supported by theadvancements in theoretical analysis,the plate girders on these bridges wereextremely shallow and flexible, to thepoint where large deflections werevisible under moderate winds evenbefore the bridges were opened totraffic. Steinman immediately deviseda “center tie” rigidly connecting thegirders to the cables at midspan, whichwas successful in considerably reduc-ing the oscillations. This solution waslater implemented in most of his othersuspension bridges, including Deer Isleand Mackinac Bridges, and the TagusRiver Bridge in Portugal, for which hedeveloped the preliminary design priorto his death.Another innovation was the use of stiffening cables connecting the su-perstructure near the tower to variouspoints along the main cables, which heused on the Thousand Island and theDeer Isle suspension bridges, sinceboth have a sleek plate girder design(
Fig. 5
). Steinman argued, most nota-bly with eminent contemporary engi-neer Othmar Ammann, that his systemwas more effective in providing aero-dynamic stability than the more con-ventional layout (with stays from thetop of the tower) that had been usedon the Brooklyn Bridge, and whichAmmann had applied on the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. Ironically, morethan 50 years after their construc-tion and the arguments between their
Fig. 4: Mackinac Straits Bridge

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