George S. Morison (engineer)

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George S. Morison
George S. Morison.jpg
Born December 19, 1842 (1842-12-19)
New Bedford, Massachusetts
Died July 1, 1903 (1903-08) (aged 60)
New York, New York
Occupation lawyer and civil engineer
Known for bridge designer

George Shattuck Morison (December 19, 1842 – July 1, 1903) was trained to be a lawyer, but became an engineer and the leading bridge designer of his time.


Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he was the son of John Hopkins Morison, a Unitarian minister. At age 14, he entered Phillips Exeter Academy and graduated by age 16. He went on to Harvard College where he was a classmate of philosopher John Fiske.[1] Morison received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1863 when he was just 20. After a brief break he attended Harvard Law School where he would receive a Bachelor of Laws degree by 1866 and was admitted to the New York Bar. In 1867, with only general mathematics training and an aptitude for mechanics, he abandoned the practice of law and pursued a career as a civil engineer and builder of bridges. He would apprentice under the supervision of engineer Octave Chanute during the construction of the first bridge to cross the Missouri River, the swing-span Kansas City Bridge.

He is known for many steel truss bridges he designed, including several crossing the Missouri River, Ohio River and the Mississippi River. The 1892, Memphis Bridge is considered to be his crowning achievement, as it was the largest bridge he would design and the first bridge to span the difficult Lower Mississippi River.

Morison was a member of several important engineering committees, the most important of which was the Isthmus Canal Commission. He was instrumental in changing its recommended location from Nicaragua to Panama.

In the 1890s, he developed a series of lectures — inspired by reading his Harvard classmate Fiske's book The Discovery of America — on the transformative effects of the new manufacturing power of that era. He collected these lectures for publication in 1898, but they were not published until 1903, shortly after his death, under the title The New Epoch as Developed by the Manufacture of Power.[2]

Morison died in his rooms at 36 West 50th Street in New York, and was buried in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where he had a summer home (and designed the town library).[3]

He was the great-uncle of historian of technology Elton E. Morison (1909–1995).

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