Trautwine began studying civil engineering in the office of William Strickland, an architect and early railroad civil engineer, and helped build the second building of the United States Mint in Philadelphia.
In 1831, he became a civil engineer with the Columbia Railway. In 1836, he became an engineer with the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad. From 1836 to 1842, he was an engineer with the Hiawassee Railway, which connected Georgia and Tennessee.
In 1838, Trautwine once again worked under Strickland, as assistant engineer for the Wilmington and Susquehanna Railroad, which had merged with three other railroads to create the first rail link from Philadelphia to Baltimore. (This main line survives today as part of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.) His service is noted on the 1839 Newkirk Viaduct Monument in Philadelphia.
Trautwine also wrote several engineering texts that became standards in the field. His Civil Engineer's Pocket Book was long known as the "engineer's bible" and under the editorship of John Cresson Trautwine, Jr. (1850–1924) and J.C. Trautwine 3rd passed through many editions.
- Method of Calculating the Cubic Contents of Excavations and Embankments (1851)
- Field Practice for Laying out Circular Curves for Railroads (1851)
- Civil Engineer's Pocket-book, 1871 (1904 edition prepared by J. C. Trautwine III)
- Gilman, Daniel Coit Gilman; Harry Thurston Peck; Frank Moore Colby (1904). The New International Encyclopaedia, Volume 16. Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 885.
- Note: The New International Encyclopedia says he was appointed principal assistant engineer with the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad in 1835, which is three years before the company was founded.
- Wilson, William Bender (1895). History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company with Plan of Organization, Portraits of Officials and Biographical Sketches 1. Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates & Company. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
- "Contributions to the History of the Lackawanna Valley" by Horace Hollister (1857)
- Bio at Philadelphia Buildings
- http://www.picturehistory.com/find/p/20642/g/1/mcms.html (photo)
- Find-A-Grave biography
- "Guide to the Trautwine Family Papers, 1834-1947" held at Cornell University