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Roebling collection



Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

John A. Roebling

Washington A. Roebling

Brooklyn (East River) Bridge

John A. Roebling’s Sons Company (JARSCO)

Emily Roebling

Charles G. Roebling (3 folders)

Gouverneur Warren (1 oversize folder)




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Roebling collection, 1824-1926

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Collection Overview

Title: Roebling collection, 1824-1926Add to your cart.

Primary Creator: John August Roebling family

Other Creators: Collingwood, Francis (1834-1911), Martin, Charles Cyril (1831-1903), New York Board of Trustees of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, Warren, G.K. (Gouverneur Kemble) (1830-1882)

Extent: 55.0 Linear Feet


The Roebling Collection was originally processed in time for the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1983.  A Guide to the Roebling Collections was published at that time and has been widely distributed.  Cross references to locations of material in the original arrangement are included in this finding aid.

The collection has been divided into nine series, five of which are further subdivided.  Records are arranged by creator and where there is overlap, by project or material type such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Images series.  Bridge proposals begun or submitted by John Roebling, but also involving Washington Roebling, have been arranged in the John A. Roebling series.  The contents of each series are arranged alphabetically with some subseries arranged chronologically.  Oversized materials and framed art works are housed separately.

Date Acquired: 00/00/1958

Subjects: Bridges, Bridges - Design and construction, Brooklyn Bridge (New York, N.Y.), Caissons, Caissons - History, Caissons - History - 19th century, Civil Engineering, Civil engineers, Engineering drawings, Hydrotherapy - History - 19th century, John A. Roebling's Sons Company, John A. Roebling Bridge (Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Ky.), Mechanical drawing, Military bridges - Design and construction - United States, Railroad bridges, Railroad bridges - history, Roebling, Charles G. (Charles Gustavus), 1849-1918, Roebling, Emily Warren, 1843-1903, Roebling, John Augustus, 1806-1869, Roebling, Washington Augustus, 1837-1926, Saxonburg (Pa.), Specifications, Spiritualism, Spiritualism - History, Spiritualism - History - 19th century, Warren G.K. (Gouvernuer Kemble), 1830-1882, Williamsburg Bridge (New York, N.Y.)

Forms of Material: Account books, Correspondence, Financial statements, Lithography, Maps, Notebooks, Patents, Photographs, Reports, Scrapbooks, Tourist maps

Languages: English

Collection processed by: Amy Rupert


The Roebling Collection documents the personal and professional activities of John A. Roebling and Washington A. Roebling; and business activities of the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company.  The material dates from 1824 to 1926 with the bulk of the material dating from 1844 to 1883.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

Collection Inventory: Roebling Collection

The Roebling collection (MC 04) documents the personal and professional activities of John A. Roebling and Washington A. Roebling; and business activities of the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company.  The material dates from 1824 to 1926 with the bulk of the material dating from 1844 to 1883, the period of time when John A. Roebling and Washington A. Roebling were active in the design and construction of suspension bridges and the manufacture of wire rope.

The collection consists of manuscript correspondence, technical notes, design drawings, notebooks, account books, reports, legal documents, patents, maps, newspaper and magazine clippings, published items, photographs and lithographs.  Especially significant are the extensive records documenting the planning and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1883.  Documents include correspondence of both John and Washington Roebling; small and oversize drawings of construction plans and machinery; specifications of work to be done; and reports on construction progress and the completed structure.  Also in the collection are smaller quantities of similar records for other bridges built by the Roeblings including the Allegheny Aqueduct, Niagara Railroad Suspension Bridge, Covington & Cincinnati Bridge and the Delaware and Hudson Canal Aqueduct.  Records for bridges proposed, but not built, by the Roeblings include the Kentucky River Bridge, Tripartite Bridge and the St. Louis River Bridge.  Records of John A. Roebling’s wire rope manufacturing business (eventually named the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company or JARSCO) include drawings of wire rope machines designed by John A. Roebling.

Pocket notebooks contain rough sketches and field notes on many of the engineering projects and on business and personal matters.  Several design notebooks contain similar information in greater detail, as well as cost estimates and copies of related correspondence.  The 151 notebooks, which often contain multiple subjects, have been numbered and arranged in the most relevant series.

A small amount of personal records include John A. Roebling’s notes on spiritualism, financial and legal records, and his will.  Washington A. Roebling’s personal papers document his interest in the First World War and include a collection of tourist maps.  A small amount of material belonging to Emily Warren Roebling, Charles G. Roebling, and Gouverneur Warren are also included in this collection.  Scrapbooks purportedly kept by Emily Roebling chronicle the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. An additional book documents family interest in theater and opera.

Biographical Note

Johann August Röbling (John Augustus Roebling) was born on July 12, 1806 in Mühlhausen in the state of Thuringia, Prussia, the son of tobacco shop owner Christoph Polycarpus Roebling and his wife Friederike Dorthea.  First tutored by the mathematician Dr. Ephraim Solomon Unger, he later attended the Royal Polytechnic Institute of Berlin.  There he studied under renowned professors J.F. Dietleyn and J.A. Eytelwein, as well as philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel, whose influence on Roebling would be life-long.

Roebling completed his education in civil engineering in 1826 and began work as an apprentice engineer on road and bridge projects in Westphalia, Thuringia.  He saw limited opportunities for career advancement and felt the lack of individual freedom in his native Prussia.  He and his brother Carl joined a group of émigrés to the United States in 1831 and arrived in Philadelphia on the sixth of August.  John and Carl Roebling settled northeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and founded the farming community of Saxonburg.

In 1836, John Roebling married Johanna Herting also of Mühlhausen and that same year began work as an engineer for the State of Pennsylvania.  Their first child, Washington Augustus Roebling, was born on May 26, 1837.  John obtained his American citizenship four months later, on September 30.

John Roebling worked on survey projects for the construction of canals and railroads.  It was in this capacity that he became aware of the inadequacy of the hemp hawsers used to tow boats up the inclines on the state’s canal system.  Recalling a German engineering paper describing methods of making rope from wire, Roebling was inspired to produce a more durable alternative.  He soon began experimenting with wire rope on his Saxonburg farm.  With local farmers as his workers, he produced wire rope on a crude rope walk.  In 1841, he made his first sale of the product to the Pennsylvania State Board of Public Works.

Roebling’s inventive mind led him to propose a suspended canal aqueduct over the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh, which was approved in 1844.  His first structure was also the world’s first suspension aqueduct.  He designed and built repairs on the Monongahela Suspension bridge at Pittsburgh in 1846.  Between 1847 and 1850 he erected four suspension aqueducts for the Delaware and Hudson Canal in New York and Pennsylvania.  In 1848 he moved his family and his growing wire rope business to Trenton, New Jersey.  By then the Roebling offspring consisted of Washington, Laura, Ferdinand, Elvira and Josephine; Charles was born the following year.

By 1855 John A. Roebling had completed an engineering marvel - a railroad suspension bridge over the Niagara River.  Roebling’s design of cables and stays made it possible for the suspension bridge to bear the weight of locomotive traffic.  Construction of the Kentucky River Bridge was started that same year but was abandoned in 1857 for lack of financial resources.  The Covington and Cincinnati Bridge project began in 1856 and was officially opened in 1867 after an interruption of work during the Civil War.  Roebling was in Cincinnati attending to details of the bridge construction when his wife Johanna died in Trenton in 1864.  At 1057 feet, the Covington and Cincinnati Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world.  The bridge was renamed the John A. Roebling Bridge in 1984.

Roebling’s son Washington attended Trenton Academy for four years, and then entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, America’s leading engineering school at the time.  Washington graduated in 1857 with a degree in civil engineering and immediately began to assist his father in the wire rope businessHe also assisted in the construction of the Allegheny River Suspension Bridge at Pittsburgh, which was completed in 1860.  Washington became a member of the New York State Militia of the Union Army in 1861.  He served as a military engineer, planning and building suspension bridges such as those across the Rappahannock River (later captured and destroyed) and across the Shenandoah River at Harpers Ferry.

Washington received an honorable discharge on January 1, 1865, and two months later was promoted to the rank of colonel.  He married Emily Warren, daughter of Sylvanus and Phoebe Lickley Warren of Cold Spring, New York, on January 18, 1865.  Washington was introduced to Emily by her brother, General Gouverneur Kemble Warren, Washington’s commanding officer at Gettysburg.

The New York State Legislature approved a bill in 1867 chartering a private company to build a bridge across the East River, linking the cities of New York and Brooklyn.  John A. Roebling had long considered such a project, producing design drawings and proposing the feasibility of a bridge to Abram S. Hewitt in 1857.  But not until the severe winter of 1866-1867, when ferry service between the two cities was seriously disrupted, did the idea gain widespread support.  The bridge company chose Roebling as chief engineer in 1868.

While Roebling prepared the initial plans for the bridge, his son Washington spent a year in Europe (1867-1868) studying engineering methods, especially the pneumatic caisson method of sinking foundations.  This method would be used for the foundations of what then was known as the “East River Bridge.”  Emily accompanied Washington on the trip and their son John A. Roebling II was born on November 21, 1867 in his grandfather’s hometown of Mühlhausen.

While Roebling was making a final survey of the bridge site and the location for the Brooklyn tower, a ferryboat struck the pier on which he was standing, crushing his foot.  Roebling, a proponent of the water cure, insisted on this treatment to heal his injury.  He died as a result of tetanus a few weeks later, on July 22, 1869.

In his will, Roebling left his wire rope business to his sons and asked that they continue operating it under the name John A. Roebling’s Sons.  The company was incorporated under that name in 1876 with Washington A. Roebling as president.  Charles G. Roebling took over as president in 1877 and Ferdinand Roebling assumed the position of Secretary/Treasurer.  John A. Roebling’s Sons grew, diversified and prospered for many years under the leadership of Roebling descendants.       

Washington A. Roebling was appointed Chief Engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge immediately following the death of his father.  He completed plans, designed necessary machinery, and until 1872, actively supervised construction of the bridge.  That summer, while in the caisson under the Brooklyn tower, Roebling was stricken with the mysterious “caisson disease.”  Today divers know that “the bends” is caused by frequent and prolonged subjection to high air pressure, as in the pneumatic caisson, and a too rapid return to normal pressure.  The illness left Washington unable to continue onsite supervision of construction work and permanently impaired his health.

For the next eleven years, Roebling directed construction from his Brooklyn residence at 110 Columbia Heights, occasionally observing its progress through a telescope.  He tutored Emily in engineering and she conveyed his instructions to C. C. Martin, Francis Collingwood, William Paine and others who were in charge of onsite operations.  The major construction work on the bridge was completed in December 1882.  The opening ceremonies, held on May 24, 1883, were attended by President Chester A. Arthur, New York Governor Grover Cleveland, and local dignitaries.  Unable to accompany his wife at the ceremonies because of his condition, Roebling watched from his window.  Emily Roebling was given the honor of being the first person to drive across the bridge.

With the Brooklyn Bridge completed, Roebling and his family moved to Troy, New York, where his son John A. Roebling II attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  After John’s graduation in 1888, the family returned to Trenton.  They moved into a newly constructed Tudor-style mansion at 191 West State Street in 1892.

John A. Roebling II married Margaret Shippen MacIlvaine in 1889.  John, who earned a master’s degree in chemistry from Rensselaer, conducted research at John A. Roebling’s Sons for several years.  He then pursued scientific investigations in his private laboratory and gave much of his attention to philanthropy.  Margaret died in 1930 and John married Helen Rice from Shropshire, England in 1931.

Emily Warren Roebling died on February 28, 1903.  Washington later married Mrs. Cornelia Witsell Farrow of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1908.  He continued to consult on alterations to the Brooklyn Bridge and served on several bridge committees.

Washington A. Roebling died on July 21, 1926 at the age of eighty-nine.  He was buried, according to his wishes, beside his first wife, Emily, in the cemetery at Cold Spring, New York, across the Hudson River from West Point.

Subject/Index Terms

Bridges - Design and construction
Brooklyn Bridge (New York, N.Y.)
Caissons - History
Caissons - History - 19th century
Civil Engineering
Civil engineers
Engineering drawings
Hydrotherapy - History - 19th century
John A. Roebling's Sons Company
John A. Roebling Bridge (Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Ky.)
Mechanical drawing
Military bridges - Design and construction - United States
Railroad bridges
Railroad bridges - history
Roebling, Charles G. (Charles Gustavus), 1849-1918
Roebling, Emily Warren, 1843-1903
Roebling, John Augustus, 1806-1869
Roebling, Washington Augustus, 1837-1926
Saxonburg (Pa.)
Spiritualism - History
Spiritualism - History - 19th century
Warren G.K. (Gouvernuer Kemble), 1830-1882
Williamsburg Bridge (New York, N.Y.)

Administrative Information

Repository: Institute Archives and Special Collections

Acquisition Method: The Roebling Collection was donated by the John A. Roebling II estate in 1958.  The collection was split between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the alma mater of Washington A. Roebling, Charles G. Roebling and John A. Roebling II, and Rutgers University in New Jersey, the home state of the Roebling family.  In general, the more technical materials were donated to RPI and the more personal materials were given to Rutgers.  Subsequent donations have been made to both institutions by family members.

Related Materials:

The Roebling Library at Rensselaer consists of several hundred nineteenth-century books and pamphlets on engineering, science, business and other subjects collected by John A. Roebling and Washington A. Roebling.  A significant number of these works were published in German.  The Roebling Library also contains official reports relating to particular bridges and their construction.  The contents of this library can be searched in the Rensselaer Libraries’ catalog.  To locate titles within the Roebling Library, limit searches by location to Archives (SCIT Roebling).

The Washington A. Roebling Student Notebooks collection (MC 64) contains sixteen notebooks for courses taken at Rensselaer from 1854-1857.  Courses include physics, geology, rational dynamics and zoology.

The Special Collections and University Archives of Rutgers University also hold Roebling Collections.  The Roebling Family Collection includes correspondence, writings, journals, scrapbooks, account books, receipts, legal documents, photographs, maps, drawings, reports, genealogies, publications, newspaper clippings and ephemera documenting four generations of the Roebling family of Trenton, New Jersey.  The collection at Rutgers overlaps the collection at Rensselaer in the area of wire rope manufacture and bridge construction including the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge, and the Covington and Cincinnati Bridge.  A guide to this collection and its microfilm surrogate is available upon request.

Rutgers University also holds the records of the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company (JARSCO).  These records include minutes of JARSCO (1876-1952) and the Roebling Securities Corporation (1953-1960); letter books of Ferdinand W. Roebling, Secretary/Treasurer of JARSCO; financial records; scrapbooks; company publications; and engineering drawings and work orders pertaining to the Roebling “Kinkora” Works in Roebling, New Jersey.

Preferred Citation: Roebling Collection, MC 04. Institute Archives and Special Collections, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.

Processing Information:

A Guide to the Roebling Collections was published at that time and has been widely distributed.  Cross references to locations of material in the original arrangement are included in this finding aid.

Please note, the scrapbooks listed in Series V: Emily Roebling, 1867-1883, were acquired with the rest of the Roebling family papers but we cannot say for sure they were created by Emily Warren Roebling. Each book is filled with newspaper clippings from before and during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge but there is no indication of her hand on any of the pages in all three scrapbooks. We can only speculate the scrapbooks may have been created by her. Furthermore, there are only a couple of places in the entire collection that reveal her hand and in each instance EWR speaks only of her husband, Washington Augustus Roebling.

Finding Aid Revision History: The Roebling Collection was originally processed in time for the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1983.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

[Series I: John A. Roebling],
[Series II: Washington A. Roebling],
[Series III: Brooklyn (East River) Bridge],
[Series IV: John A. Roebling’s Sons Company (JARSCO)],
[Series V: Emily Roebling, 1867-1883],
[Series VI: Charles G. Roebling (3 folders), 1860-1918],
[Series VII: Gouverneur Warren (1 oversize folder), undated],
[Series VIII: Images],
[Series IX: Artifacts, 1869 - circa 1883],
[Series X: Addendum],

Series X: AddendumAdd to your cart.
Box 61Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Allegemeine Ansicht der Vereinigten Staaten … 1831 [photocopy]Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Measurements of Bridge & Railway, 1885Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Poetry re: Brooklyn Bridge, 1883-1924Add to your cart.
Folder 4: News Clippings, 1889- 1922Add to your cart.
Folder 5: Electrical Survey - Bourough of Manhattan, 1898Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Report on Strength and Saety of the Bridge, 1898Add to your cart.
Folder 7: History of the Niagara Suspension Bridge, 1905Add to your cart.
Folder 8: "The Safety of the Brooklyn Bridge", 1902Add to your cart.
Folder 9: News Clippings, 1919-1922Add to your cart.
Folder 10: News Clippings of 50th Anniversary, 1933Add to your cart.
Folder 11: Programs- 50th Anniversary of the Opening, 1933Add to your cart.
Folder 12: Roebling (town) 75th Anniversary, 1980Add to your cart.
Folder 13: Golden Gate Bridge 50th Anniversary, 1987Add to your cart.
Folder 14: Brooklyn Bridge Anniversary Clippings, 1983Add to your cart.
Folder 15: Brooklyn Bridge Commemorative Stamp, 1983Add to your cart.
Folder 16: Canal Currents - Roebling Edition, 1983Add to your cart.
Folder 17: "Work Suspended" Covington-Cincinnati Bridge, ASCE Address, 1983Add to your cart.
Folder 18: "The Family the Bridge Built", 1983Add to your cart.
Folder 19: "The Great Bridge and the American Imagination", 1983Add to your cart.
Folder 20: "Mr. Roebling's Bridge", 1983Add to your cart.
Folder 21: "The Roeblings: Bridging the Generations", 1983Add to your cart.
Folder 22: Emily Roebling Articles, 1984Add to your cart.
Folder 23: John A. Roebling 200th Birthday Stamp, 2006Add to your cart.
Folder 24: John A. Roebling Exhibit Catalogs, 2006Add to your cart.
Folder 25: John A. Roebling Symposium, 2006Add to your cart.

Browse by Series:

[Series I: John A. Roebling],
[Series II: Washington A. Roebling],
[Series III: Brooklyn (East River) Bridge],
[Series IV: John A. Roebling’s Sons Company (JARSCO)],
[Series V: Emily Roebling, 1867-1883],
[Series VI: Charles G. Roebling (3 folders), 1860-1918],
[Series VII: Gouverneur Warren (1 oversize folder), undated],
[Series VIII: Images],
[Series IX: Artifacts, 1869 - circa 1883],
[Series X: Addendum],

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