Edward Abraham Byrne

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This article is about the civil engineer. For the New York City police officer, see Edward Byrne (police officer).
Edward A. Byrne (1864–1938)

Edward Abraham Byrne (1864–1938) was an American civil engineer responsible for the construction of a number of bridges in the boroughs of New York. He was of Irish descent.


Byrne was born in New York, N. Y., on January 27, 1864, the son of Frederick John and Susan Mary (Power) Byrne, and the descendant of an old New York family of Irish heritage. Educated in the Public Schools of the city, he was graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1884.

Engineering career[edit]

Edward Byrne began his civil engineering career in 1886 with the New York City Aqueduct Commission on the construction of the Croton Water Supply System. It is of interest that on this project he met Robert Ridgway, who also was destined to become a distinguished engineer and an outstanding civil servant.

From 1889 to the close of 1897, Byrne worked on highways and bridges for the old Department of Public Works of New York City.

On January 1, 1898, he joined the Department of Bridges and began a striking and noteworthy service which ended in November, 1933, with his resignation from the position of Chief Engineer of the Department of Plant and Structures (the successor of the Bridge Department), in order to assume the duties of Chief Engineer of the Triborough Bridge. His thirty-six years of service in the Department of Bridges, and its successor, the Department of Plant and Structures, may be divided into two periods.

Hunterspoint Avenue Bridge

1898 - 1911[edit]

Borden Avenue Bridge

During this period, he was in charge of bridge construction and maintenance, supervising the construction of the Willis Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River, the Vernon Avenue Bridge, the Borden Avenue and Hunters Point Bridges over Dutch Kills, and the old bridge over Flushing River.

1912 onwards[edit]

The second period began with his assumption of the office of Deputy Chief Engineer in 1912, followed by his appointment as Chief Engineer in 1915. At the close of World War I, the Department of Plant and Structures began a period of intense activity which was cut short only by the Great Depression of 1930. Not less than fifteen new bridges of major importance, of which ten were of the bascule type, were built in this period. In addition, under Byrne’s direction, the Department designed and constructed a number of large incinerator plants and many other structures for the several departments of the City. He increased the capacity of the Manhattan and Queensboro Bridges over the East River by the construction of additional vehicular roadways on their upper decks.

Triborough Bridge[edit]

Byrne was greatly preoccupied with the study of traffic facilities. As far back as 1916 he conceived the idea of the Triborough Bridge to link the Boroughs of Manhattan, Bronx, and Queens. He fostered this idea until he thought the time was ripe for its materialization. The actual work on the foundations and anchorages was begun in 1929 under his direction, while Chief Engineer of the Department of Plant and Structures.

Aerial View of the Proposed Triborough Bridge - Planned by Edward A. Byrne - January, 1927

Then, in November, 1933, upon the organization of the Triborough Bridge Authority, he became its first Chief Engineer. There is no doubt that Byrne looked upon the construction of the Triborough Bridge as the culmination of his career, but he was forced to relinquish his post in February, 1934, only several months after he had entered upon it with such high anticipation.

Primarily, Byrne was an engineer and executive, and because of character, integrity, and devotion, held his position, independent of politics, throughout successive administrations. The administration headed by Fiorello H. La Guardia assumed the Mayor's office on January 1, 1934, with a mandate for a "clean sweep", and the complete reorganization of the Triborough Bridge Authority was among the changes which followed. "It is fitting that credit for the initiation of the Triborough Bridge should be accorded Edward Byrne".

Other New York City Projects[edit]

Another instance of Byrne’s active concern with traffic facilities is his advocacy of a vehicular tunnel from the Battery to Hamilton Avenue, in Brooklyn, N. Y., by way of Governors Island. He prepared preliminary plans for this project which was an exceedingly live story in 1939. In 1929, also, he prepared preliminary plans and estimates for a vehicular tunnel under the East River from Manhattan Island at Thirty-eight Street to the Borough of Queens.

Personal life[edit]

Edward Byrne was married to Elizabeth Mary Dillon in 1902. She died in 1912, leaving him two young sons. Byrne did not remarry. He participated in the lives of his children until they were safely through college.

Byrne was deeply religious and loyally attached to the Roman Catholic Church. He possessed power, energy, and a driving force which overcame apparently unsurmountable obstacles. The uncompromising integrity with which he conducted his responsible office was felt throughout his department. Beneath an exterior which years of command and responsibility had rendered somewhat stern, he fostered a kindly, generous, and charitable disposition – always ready with help and sympathy for fellow humans in distress. His engineers will remember the pleasure he derived from the genial luncheon intermissions when out on some job. No matter how serious the business might have been, Byrne would relax completely and, with a generosity which became proverbial, play the host to his party.

He was fond of the theater, particularly musical comedy, and delighted in attending football games and other sports. When his sons were at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, he attended religiously all the Notre Dame games, enthusiastically supporting them as any undergraduate.

Edward Byrne died in Rye, New York, on December 6, 1938, at the home of his son Edward. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery, in Queens, Long Island, and thus his last ride was over the bridge which played so great a part in the drama of his last years. At the time, he was survived by two sons, Edward and George Dillon; and by two granddaughters, Elizabeth and Barbara Byrne, the children of Edward.

Professional associations[edit]

Byrne was a Consulting Engineer of the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission, and of the Camden-Philadelphia Bridge. He was a Past-President of the Society of Municipal Engineers of New York; a Past-President of the Kings County Chapter of the New York State Society of Professional Engineers a member of the Brooklyn Engineers Club, and of the Catholic Club. He was a trustee of the Greenpoint Savings Bank.

Byrne was elected a Member of the ASCE on April 16, 1918.

External links[edit]