Joseph Strauss (engineer)

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For other people of the same name, see Joseph Strauss (disambiguation).
San Francisco's Joseph Strauss Memorial, in March 2010.

Joseph Baermann Strauss (January 9, 1870 – May 16, 1938) was an American structural engineer who revolutionized the design of bascule bridges. He was the chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge, a suspension bridge.

Life, beginnings and death[edit]

He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to an artistic family of German ancestry, having a mother who was a pianist and a father, Raphael Strauss, who was a writer and painter.[1] His pianist mother had an unfortunate accident which ultimately ended her concert career. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1892. He served as both class poet and president. Strauss graduated with a degree in civil engineering.

Joseph Strauss had many hobbies. One of these included poetry. After completion of the Golden Gate Bridge he returned to his passion of poetry and wrote his most recognizable poem "The Mighty Task is Done". He also wrote an awe-inspiring poem "The Redwoods". His moving poem "Sequoia" can still be purchased by tourists visiting the California redwoods.

He died in Los Angeles, California, just one year after the Golden Gate's completion. His statue can be seen on the San Francisco side of the bridge.

Early career and the bascule bridge[edit]

He was hospitalized while in college and his hospital room overlooked the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. This sparked his interest in bridges. Upon graduating from the University of Cincinnati, Strauss worked at the Office of Ralph Modjeski, a firm which specialized in building bridges. At that time, bascule bridges were built with expensive iron counterweights. He proposed using cheaper concrete counterweights in place of iron. When his ideas were rejected, he left the firm and started his own firm, the Strauss Bascule Bridge Company of Chicago, where he revolutionized the design of bascule bridges.[2][3][4]

Bridge designs[edit]

Strauss was the designer of the Burnside Bridge (1926) in Portland, Oregon and the Lewis and Clark Bridge (1930) over the Columbia River between Longview, Washington, and Rainier, Oregon. Strauss also worked with the Dominion Bridge Company in building the Cherry Street Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge in Toronto. in 1912 he designed the HB&T Railway bascule bridge over Buffalo Bayou in Houston, Texas (now hidden under an Interstate 69 bridge in the shadow of downtown Houston).

Golden Gate Bridge[edit]

As Chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Strauss overcame many problems. He had to find funding and support for the bridge from the citizens and the U.S. military. There were also innovations in the way the bridge was constructed. It had to span one of the greatest distances ever spanned, reach heights that hadn't been seen in a bridge, and hold up to the forces of the ocean. He placed a brick from the demolished McMicken Hall at his alma mater, the University of Cincinnati, in the south anchorage before the concrete was poured.

Strauss was concerned with the safety of his workers. He required that a net be installed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge during construction. This net saved a total of 19 lives.[5]

In actuality, Charles Alton Ellis was chiefly responsible for the structural design of the Golden Gate Bridge. Because of a dispute with Strauss, however, Ellis was not recognized for his work when the bridge opened in 1937.[6] A plaque honoring Ellis is set to appear in 2012 for the first time.[7]

Other works[edit]


  1. ^ "Two of San Francisco's best-known landmarks were built by Germans: Joseph Strauss designed the 1937 Golden Gate Bridge, and Bernard Maybeck, son of a German immigrant, designed the Palace of Fine Arts," according to "10 great places to toast German heritage". USA Today. October 5, 2006. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  2. ^ Hittleman, Jerry and Smith Jr., Larry (January 1995). "Henry Ford Bridge (Badger Avenue Bridge) Written Historical and Descriptive Data" (PDF). Historic American Engineering Record. National Park Service. pp. 6–7. Retrieved May 18, 2012. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Eighth Street Bridge over Passaic River" (PDF). Historic Bridge Survey (1991-1994). New Jersey Department of Transportation. 2001. Retrieved 2015-05-21. J. B. Strauss (1870-1938) invented the pivoting counterweight linkage used at the Eighth Street bridge, and he applied for a patent in 1905, the same year the first bridge of this type was built in Cleveland. That year he also founded the Strauss Bascule and Concrete Bridge Company in Chicago to market his bridge designs. Strauss went on to become the most widely respected moveable-span bridge engineer of the pre-World War II era. Strauss reasoned that if, unlike the traditional trunnion bridge, which operates like a seesaw and moves in a vertical plane on a horizontal steel pivot, the entire weight of the counterweight could be concentrated at the end (tail) of the moveable leaf, it would then be possible to use a lighter counterweight. Such an arrangement also meant a shorter tail end to the leaf, thus saving on materials that the "counterweight could be made in such shape that no pit is required to receive it when the leaf is in the upright position'" (Waddell, p. 704). The patented linkage, or arms, ensures that the counterweight will always move in a series of parallel positions and thus maintain the position of the weight at the tail end of the leaf. 
  5. ^ "Maintenance and Operations". Golden Gate Bridge Research Library. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  6. ^ "Biography: Charles Ellis". The American Experience, PBS. Retrieved 2012-03-17. 
  7. ^ Robert Reid. "15 things you didn’t know about the Golden Gate Bridge". Lonely planet. Retrieved 2012-11-30. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Strauss, Joseph B. (1938). The Golden Gate Bridge Report of the Chief Engineer to the Board of Directors of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District. San Francisco, Calif.: Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District. 

External links[edit]