Scientist of the Day - Octave Chanute
Octave Chanute, a French/American engineer and inventor, was born Feb. 18, 1832. Chanute is best known as an aviation pioneer, but that was an avocation he pursued in retirement. During his working years, he was a civil engineer, designing mostly bridges. The Kinzua railroad viaduct in Pennsylvania was one of his most spectacular designs, spanning a valley with a trestle that was taller than the Brooklyn Bridge (see fifth image above). But we in Kansas City are partial to his Hannibal Bridge, the first bridge to cross the Missouri river, opened for rail traffic in 1869. It changed Kansas City from a sleepy little river town to a major rail hub in a very short time. There was a swing truss near the middle, which could open to allow steamboats to pass through (fourth image).
Chanute wrote an account of the construction project and published it as The Kansas City Bridge in 1870; we own a special copy of the book, presented by Chanute to the American Society of Civil Engineers. We displayed it in our 2002 exhibition: Centuries of Civil Engineering. We have not digitized the plates from this work, but our close neighbor, the Miller-Nichols Library at UMKC, has done so, and the images above of the bridge under construction are from their Special Collections website.
The first image is from a postcard and claims to show the original Hannibal Bridge, but it actually depicts the replacement bridge, built out of steel and installed in 1916.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to email@example.com.