Benjamin Wright

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For other people named Benjamin Wright, see Benjamin Wright (disambiguation).
Benjamin Wright
Benjamin Wright.jpg
Benjamin Wright
Born October 10, 1770
Wethersfield, Connecticut
Died August 24, 1842
Nationality United States
Engineering career
Significant projects Erie Canal
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

Benjamin Wright (October 10, 1770 – August 24, 1842) was an American civil engineer who was chief engineer of the Erie Canal and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.[1] In 1969, the American Society of Civil Engineers declared him the "Father of American Civil Engineering".[2]


Wright was born in Wethersfield, Connecticut, to Ebenezer Wright and Grace Butler. In 1789, at age 19, he moved with his family to Rome, New York, where he became a surveyor. FIve years later, he was hired as a surveyor and planner by the famed English canal designer William Weston. Working for Weston, he helped lay out canals and locks on the Mohawk River. After Weston returned to England in 1790, Wright was commissioned to survey the Mohawk River between Schenectady and Rome, and then to the Hudson River.[2]

In 1816, funding for the Erie Canal was in place, and the following year, Wright was named Chief Engineer. He led thousands of unskilled laborers as they built the canal with wheelbarrows, hand tools, horses, and mules. In Wright's honor, the first boat to traverse the canal system was named the Chief Engineer.[2]

After completion of the Erie Canal, he was approached by the Wurts brothers of Philadelphia to survey a possible route from the coalfields of Northeastern Pennsylvania to the Hudson, where anthracite could be shipped by boat downriver to New York City.[3] Wright consented, and served as chief engineer on the Delaware and Hudson Canal for about a year.[4] At that point, he stepped down and became a consulting engineer; the job of chief was taken by John B. Jervis, who had worked under Wright on the Erie Canal.[5]

When that canal was finished in 1828, Wright was made Chief Engineer of the newly organized Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Within a year, Wright had let contracts for a massive construction effort that encompassed about 6,000 men and 700 horses.[2]

In addition to his engineering work, Wright was also elected to the New York State Legislature (1794), and appointed a New York county judge. He married Philomela Waterman on September 27, 1798, with whom he had nine children (five of whom became civil engineers). Wright is buried in the New York Marble Cemetery in Manhattan.[6]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kapsch, Robert J. (2000). "American Canals as a Source of Revitalization". The millennium link: the rehabilitation of the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals. London: Thomas Telford. pp. 48–51.
  2. ^ a b c d Weingardt, Richard G. (2005). Engineering Legends: Great American Civil Engineers: 32 Profiles Of Inspiration And Achievement. Reston: ASCE Publications. pp. 4–9. ISBN 0-7844-0801-7. Retrieved October 7, 2011. 
  3. ^ Shaughnessy, Jim (1997). Delaware & Hudson: The History of an Important Railroad Whose Antecedent Was A Canal Network to Transport Coal. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-8156-0455-6. Retrieved October 7, 2011. 
  4. ^ Supreme Court, Ulster County: the president, managers, and company of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company vs. the Pennsylvania Coal Company, Vol. 1. W.C. Bryant & Co. 1858. Retrieved April 9, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Benjamin Wright Gravesite". ASCE Metropolitan Section. Retrieved April 9, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Benjamin Wright Gravesite". ASCE Metropolitan Section. Retrieved October 7, 2011.