Joseph Strauss (engineer)

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Joseph Strauss
The Joseph Strauss Memorial, in San Francisco
Born(1870-01-09)January 9, 1870
Cincinnati, Ohio, US
DiedMay 16, 1938(1938-05-16) (aged 68)
Los Angeles, California, US
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park
Alma materUniversity of Cincinnati
Occupationstructural engineer
Known forChief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge

Joseph Baermann Strauss (January 9, 1870 – May 16, 1938) was an American structural engineer who revolutionized the design of bascule bridges. He was the chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.

Life, beginnings and death[edit]

He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to an artistic family of German-Jewish ancestry. His mother was a pianist, and his father, Raphael Strauss, was a writer and painter.[1] He graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1892 with a degree in civil engineering. He served as both class poet and president, and was a brother of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

Strauss had many hobbies. One of these included poetry. After completion of the Golden Gate Bridge he returned to his passion of poetry and wrote his most recognizable poem "The Mighty Task is Done". He also wrote "The Redwoods", and his "Sequoia" can still be purchased by tourists visiting the California redwoods.

He died in Los Angeles, California, just one year after the Golden Gate's completion. His statue can be seen on the San Francisco side of the bridge. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

Early career and the bascule bridge[edit]

Strauss was hospitalized while in college and his hospital room overlooked the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. This sparked his interest in bridges. Upon graduating from the University of Cincinnati, Strauss worked at the Office of Ralph Modjeski, a firm which specialized in building bridges. At that time, bascule bridges were built with expensive iron counterweights. He proposed using cheaper concrete counterweights in place of iron. When his ideas were rejected, he left the firm and started his own firm, the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company of Chicago, where he revolutionized the design of bascule bridges.[2][3][4]

Bridge designs[edit]

Strauss was the designer of the Burnside Bridge (1926) in Portland, Oregon, and the Lewis and Clark Bridge (1930) over the Columbia River between Longview, Washington, and Rainier, Oregon. Strauss also worked with the Dominion Bridge Company in building the Cherry Street Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge (1931) in Toronto, Ontario. In 1912 he designed the HB&T Railway bascule bridge over Buffalo Bayou in Houston, Texas (now hidden under an Interstate 69 bridge in the shadow of downtown Houston). His design was also exported to Norway[5] where Skansen Bridge (1918) is still in daily use. He also designed Palace Bridge (Dvortsovy) double-leaf Strauss bascule bridge over Neva River in St. Petersburg (then Petrograd), Russia near Winter Palace, former Czar's residence.[6]

But the Strauss bridge design was also copied and used in other places in Europe. Two bridges are still in daily use in Sweden - the railwaybridges over Trollhätte canal, in Vänersborg and Danviksbron in Stockholm. In Sête, France, over Canal du Midi, another copy of Strauss designed bridges is to be found.[7]

Golden Gate Bridge[edit]

As Chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, Strauss overcame many problems. He had to find funding and support for the bridge from the citizens and the U.S. military. There were also innovations in the way the bridge was constructed. It had to span one of the greatest distances ever spanned, reach heights that hadn't been seen in a bridge, and hold up to the forces of the ocean. He placed a brick from the demolished McMicken Hall at his alma mater, the University of Cincinnati, in the south anchorage before the concrete was poured.[8]

Strauss was concerned with the safety of his workers. He required that a net be installed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge during construction. This net saved a total of 19 lives.[9]

Strauss is credited as the chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge, but Charles Alton Ellis is responsible for most of the structural design. Because of a dispute with Strauss, however, Ellis was not recognized for his work when the bridge opened in 1937.[10] A plaque honoring Ellis was installed on the south tower in 2012, to acknowledge his contributions.[11]

Other works[edit]


  1. ^ "Two of San Francisco's best-known landmarks were built by Germans: Joseph Strauss designed the 1937 Golden Gate Bridge, and Bernard Maybeck, son of a German immigrant, designed the Palace of Fine Arts", according to "10 great places to toast German heritage". USA Today. October 5, 2006. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  2. ^ Hittleman, Jerry; Smith Jr., Larry (January 1995). "Henry Ford Bridge (Badger Avenue Bridge) Written Historical and Descriptive Data" (PDF). Historic American Engineering Record. National Park Service. pp. 6–7. Retrieved May 18, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ "Joseph Strauss". Archived from the original on November 13, 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  4. ^ "Eighth Street Bridge over Passaic River" (PDF). Historic Bridge Survey (1991-1994). New Jersey Department of Transportation. 2001. Retrieved 2015-05-21. J. B. Strauss (1870-1938) invented the pivoting counterweight linkage used at the Eighth Street bridge, and he applied for a patent in 1905, the same year the first bridge of this type was built in Cleveland. That year he also founded the Strauss Bascule and Concrete Bridge Company in Chicago to market his bridge designs. Strauss went on to become the most widely respected moveable-span bridge engineer of the pre-World War II era. Strauss reasoned that if, unlike the traditional trunnion bridge, which operates like a seesaw and moves in a vertical plane on a horizontal steel pivot, the entire weight of the counterweight could be concentrated at the end (tail) of the moveable leaf, it would then be possible to use a lighter counterweight. Such an arrangement also meant a shorter tail end to the leaf, thus saving on materials that the "counterweight could be made in such shape that no pit is required to receive it when the leaf is in the upright position'" (Waddell, p. 704). The patented linkage, or arms, ensures that the counterweight will always move in a series of parallel positions and thus maintain the position of the weight at the tail end of the leaf.
  5. ^ "Strauss (Joseph) Bridge Plans". Retrieved 2022-01-09.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Sempler, Kaianders (10 June 2015). "Stockholms häftigaste bro" [Stockholm's coolest bridge]. Ny Teknik (in Swedish). Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  8. ^ Baumann, James A.. Ohio Cum Laude: The Whole Ohio College Catalogue. United States, Orange Frazer Press, 1997.
  9. ^ "Maintenance and Operations". Golden Gate Bridge Research Library. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  10. ^ "Biography: Charles Ellis". The American Experience, PBS. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  11. ^ Calvey, Mark (May 25, 2012). "Historian says building San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge took courageous banker". San Francisco Business Times. Retrieved 5 April 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Strauss, Joseph B. (1938). The Golden Gate Bridge Report of the Chief Engineer to the Board of Directors of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District. San Francisco, Calif.: Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District.

External links[edit]