Benjamin Henry Latrobe II

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Benjamin Henry Latrobe II
Born(1806-12-19)December 19, 1806
DiedOctober 19, 1878(1878-10-19) (aged 71)
Resting place
EmployerBaltimore and Ohio Railroad
Known forThomas Viaduct
Maria Eleanor "Ellen" Hazlehurst
(m. 1833; died 1872)
RelativesHenry Sellon Boneval Latrobe (brother),Julia Latrobe (sister) John H. B. Latrobe (brother),

Benjamin Henry Latrobe II (December 19, 1806 – October 19, 1878) was an American civil engineer best known for his railway bridges and a railway executive.

Early life and career[edit]

Benjamin Henry Latrobe II was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 19, 1806,[1]: 243  Latrobe was the youngest son of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who, six years previously, had married his second wife, Mary Elizabeth Hazlehurst (1771–1841), the eldest daughter of Issac Hazelhurst, a Philadelphia merchant [1] and business partner for Robert Morris.[2] Latrobe's elder brother John Hazlehurst Boneval Latrobe became a lawyer, painter, and inventor of the Baltimore heater (an improvement upon the Franklin stove). When his brother John and Latrobe were young, their father described John as "stout, sensible ... a philosopher... (and his youngest son, Benjamin...) ... as one of the wildest and boldest fellows I ever saw."[3]

Latrobe's eldest brother, Henry Sellon Boneval Latrobe (1792–1817), along with Latrobe's father, died of yellow fever while working in New Orleans, Louisiana. Latrobe's nephew, General Ferdinand C. Latrobe,[2] was a seven-term mayor of the city of Baltimore, Maryland.

He married Maria Eleanor "Ellen" Hazlehurst (1806–1872) of Altoona, Pennsylvania, on March 12, 1833. They had four sons (two of whom survived childhood) and three daughters.

Their eldest son, Charles Hazelhurst Latrobe (1833–1902), moved to Florida, where he married and later joined the Confederate States Army. A civil engineer like his father and grandfather, Charles H. Latrobe later moved back to Baltimore, where he served as the city's chief engineer for 25 years and continued to design public buildings and bridges noted for their beauty.[4][5] His brother, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, III (1840–1901) became an Episcopal Church priest and rector of the Church of Our Savior in Silver Spring, Maryland.[6]

Thomas Viaduct in 1970

Member of the Bar[edit]

Latrobe attended Georgetown College in Washington, D. C. and graduated from what was then known as St. Mary's College in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1823.[3] Thereafter, he entered the law office of Charles F. Mayer, a prominent attorney in Baltimore, becoming a member of the Baltimore Bar in 1825.[1] After a short stay in New Jersey, tending to his mother's affairs, he returned to Baltimore in 1830 to practice law again. This time with his brother, John Latrobe. John, the elder Latrobe, was educated as an engineer but changed his profession from engineering to law. He was a junior legal counsel to the Baltimore and Ohio railroad then.[2] However, Latrobe had learned about working with timber and found that he loved surveying.[3]

Rodman, Baltimore and Ohio railroad[edit]

Although trained in the law, Latrobe was already an accomplished draftsman and mathematician.[1] In 1830, he left the practice of law and entered into civil engineering. Through his brother's influence, Latrobe was hired as a rodman on the survey locating the railroad west of Ellicott's Mills.[2][7]: 129 [8] Latrobe read Jean-Rodolphe Perronet's books on bridges in the french language as well as traveling to Philadelphia to study the bridges there.[8]

Principal engineer, Baltimore and Washington railroad[edit]

In 1827, the Maryland General Assembly passed "An Act to Incorporate the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad" and "An Act to Authorize the President, Managers, and Company of the Washington and Baltimore Turnpike Road to Construct a Rail Road from the City of Baltimore to the District of Columbia in the Direction of Washington." Similarly, the Federal government passed legislation to authorize a railroad within the District of Columbia in 1828.[9] This was to be the first rail link to Washington. No progress, however, had been made on this railroad as the Company was busy building the main line to Frederick. But, in 1829, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company obtained two legal injunctions that "...restrain(ed) the (railroad) from constructing the road at all, within the limits of Frederick County." This brought the progress of the main line work to a complete halt, and the focus then became on the Washington branch.[10] In 1831, Jonathan Knight, the Chief Engineer of the road, appointed Latrobe and Henry J. Ranney to locate the railroad [10][11]: 47–8  assisted by Henry R. Hazlehurst.

Latrobe designed the Thomas Viaduct, a "basket handle"[8] arch bridge which became the largest and first curved masonry railway viaduct in the United States when completed in 1835. The viaduct spans the Patapsco River between Relay and Elkridge, Maryland.[11]: 50  As the project engineer, Latrobe worked closely with the railroad's construction chief, Caspar Wever.[8]: 159–168  Nicknamed "Latrobe's Folly" by those who doubted the massive structure could support itself, the bridge remains in use today (as of 2024), carrying far heavier loads than ever envisioned.[8]

Locating engineer, Baltimore and Ohio railroad[edit]

In 1834, the legal issues had been resolved to the point that work on the railroad could be resumed in conjunction with the canal company, and Latrobe located the railroad from Frederick County to Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia).[1]

Chief engineer, Baltimore and Port Deposit Railroad[edit]

In 1835, Latrobe became the chief engineer for the Baltimore and Port Deposit Railroad Company, which helped build the first rail link (Baltimore to Havre-de-Grace) between Philadelphia and Baltimore.[12]: 38  The road crossed the Susquehanna River by means of a series of three bridges supported by piles which at that time were the first long bridges of that type in the United States.[1] erected in the United States

Engineer of location and construction, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad[edit]

Latrobe returned to the railroad in 1836. Along with Louis Wernwag, he designed the railroad's first bridge across the Potomac River at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, which opened in 1837.[11]: 34 

Institution of American Civil Engineers[edit]

On December 17, 1838, a petition started circulating asking civil engineers to meet in 1839 in Baltimore, Maryland, to organize a permanent society of civil engineers.[13] Prior to that, thirteen notable civil engineers largely identifiable as being from New York, Pennsylvania, or Maryland met in Philadelphia. This group presented the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia with a formal proposal that an Institution of American Civil Engineers be established as an adjunct of the Franklin..."[13] This group included Latrobe and Chief Engineer Jonathan Knight. Membership in the new society restricted membership to engineers, and "architects and eminent machinists were to be admitted only as Associates."[14] The proposed constitution failed, and no further attempts were made to form another society.[13] Miller later ascribed the failure to the difficulties of assembling members due to available means for traveling in the country at the time.[13] One of the other difficulties members would have to contend with was the requirement to produce each year one previously unpublished paper or "...present a scientific book, map, plan or model, not already in the possession of the Society, under the penalty of $10."[14] In that same period, the editor of the American Railroad Journal commented that effort had failed in part due to certain jealousies that arose due to the proposed affiliation with the Franklin Institute.[13] That journal continued discussion on forming an engineers' organization from 1839 thru 1843 serving its own self-interests in advocating its journal as a replacement for a professional society but to no avail.

Chief engineer[edit]

In 1842, the railroad appointed him as chief engineer, succeeding his boss, Jonathan Knight. Latrobe served in the position for 22 years.[7][12]: 54  He was appointed to the concurrent position of general superintendent of the B&O in 1847.[12]: 57  Latrobe later became president of the Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad,[7][12]: 113  part of the B&O's Pittsburgh District.[15]

1843 lithograph,'Map, exhibiting the railway route between Baltimore & St. Louis, together with the other principal lines in the eastern, middle & western states; prepared under the direction of B. H. Latrobe, Ch. LOC 98688350

Hoosac tunnel[edit]

In the 1860s, Latrobe became a consulting engineer for the Troy and Greenfield Railroad and worked on the construction of the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts, then the second-longest tunnel in the world.[16]

Death and legacy[edit]

Latrobe died in Baltimore on October 19, 1878, at his home in Baltimore.[2] Pallbearers included fellow engineers Charles P. Manning, chief engineer for the Baltimore City water works, General William Price Craighill, Future president of the American Society of Civil Engineers-Mendes Cohen,Richard McSherry, Cary Breckinridge Gamble. Fellow railroad directors who attended included Daniel J. Foley and Henry A Thompson.[2] At his funeral, The speaker's eulogy noted that he could not speak to the "... great achievements or the notable work he had so well done (sic). History ... would take care of that."[2] The eulogy noted that the commercial prosperity of Baltimore, the "... tunneled hills and long lines of railroads were monuments to that success and would live longer than marble or granite."[2] The American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, noted that although Latrobe was not a member, it wanted to recognize him as "... one of the pioneers of the engineering profession in this country."[17] Latrobe played a prominent role in the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, particularly the location of the road in one of the first crossings of the Alleghenies.[17] Latrobe's plan for a maximum grade of 2.2%, or 116 feet per mile over the crest in 1848 became the standard for the pacific railroads in the 1860s.[3]

"(T)he two Latrobes ... spent virtually their entire professional careers, spanning much of the 19th century. Benjamin supervised the construction of most of the line between Baltimore and the Ohio River; he subsequently became the B&O Railroad's chief engineer. (While his brother) John made many of the financial and political deals that enabled the line to be built." (Dilts, 2004) [3]

Latrobe was buried in Green Mount Cemetery, whose landscape architecture he had designed, beside his wife.[18] His brother John H. B. Latrobe was on the cemetery's board of directors as well as helped found the Maryland Historical Society, which maintains the family papers.[19]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Stuart, Charles Beebe (1871). Lives and works of civil and military engineers of America. New York: Van Nostrand. Retrieved March 22, 2024. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h anon. (October 21, 1878). "Baltimore Sun". Baltimore Sun. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved March 23, 2024. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b c d e Dilts, James D. "The Latrobes: First Family of Baltimore Architecture and Engineering." Baltimore Civil Engineering History. 2004. American Society of Civil Engineers pages 41-52.
  4. ^ "The Latrobe Family and Charm City at Monument City Blog". Archived from the original on April 25, 2018. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  5. ^ "Latrobe, Charles Hazelhurst", in Concise Dictionary of American Biography (1964), New York: Scribner's.
  6. ^ "Rev. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, III b. 4 Dec 1840 Baltimore, Independent Cities, Maryland, USA d. 7 Jul 1901 Baltimore, Independent Cities, Maryland, USA: JHBL Genealogy". Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. ^ a b c Treese, Lorett (2003). Railroads of Pennsylvania: Fragments of the Past in the Keystone Landscape. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-8117-2622-1.
  8. ^ a b c d e Dilts, James D. (1996). The Great Road: The Building of the Baltimore and Ohio, the Nation's First Railroad, 1828–1853. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-2629-0.
  9. ^ Cullen, Elizabeth O. (January 1957). "The Coming of the Railroads to Washington, D. C." Records of the Columbia Historical Society. 57 (1): 26–32. Retrieved March 23, 2024.
  10. ^ a b Smith, W (1853). A History and Description of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Baltimore, MD: J. Murphy & Company. p. 29. Retrieved March 23, 2024. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  11. ^ a b c Harwood, Herbert H. Jr. (1994). Impossible Challenge II: Baltimore to Washington and Harpers Ferry from 1828 to 1994. Baltimore, MD: Barnard, Roberts & Co. ISBN 0-934118-22-1.
  12. ^ a b c d Stover, John F. (1987). History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press. ISBN 0-911198-81-4.
  13. ^ a b c d e Calhoun, Daniel Hovey. The American civil engineer: Origins and conflict. Technology Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1960.
  14. ^ a b Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Hunt, C. Warren. (1897). Historical sketch of the American Society of Civil Engineers. New York: [Printed by order of the Board of Direction]. Accessed at HathiTrust
  15. ^ Railroad History, Pittsburgh Plan, 1923 Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  16. ^ Latrobe, Benjamin H. II (1869). Report of Benj. H. Latrobe, Consulting Engineer, on the Troy and Greenfield Railroad and Hoosac Tunnel. Boston.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  17. ^ a b anon. (1878). Proceedings. New York: American Society of Civil Engineers. p. 123. Retrieved March 23, 2024.
  18. ^ "Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Jr". The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  19. ^ "John H.B. Latrobe, MSA SC 3520-14346".

External links[edit]