Ralph Modjeski

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ralph Modjeski
Rudolf Modrzejewski

(1861-01-27)January 27, 1861
DiedJune 26, 1940(1940-06-26) (aged 79)
Los Angeles, California, United States
OccupationCivil engineer
AwardsHoward N. Potts Medal (1914)
Franklin Medal (1921)
John Fritz Medal (1930)

Ralph Modjeski (born Rudolf Modrzejewski; January 27, 1861 – June 26, 1940) was a Polish-American civil engineer who achieved prominence as "America's greatest bridge builder."


He was born in Bochnia, in Galicia, on January 27, 1861, to Gustav Sinnmayer Modrzejewski and actress Helena Opid Modrzejewska (best known outside Poland as Helena Modjeska). In 1865, his mother left Sinnmayer, and in 1868, she married "Count" Karol Bożenta Chłapowski. In July 1876, they emigrated to America, where, as a matter of convenience, the boy's mother changed her name to Helena Modjeska and her son's name to Ralph Modjeski.

He was a classmate of Ignacy Jan Paderewski in Poland and was a formidable pianist in his own right.

The son returned to Europe to study at l'Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées (the School of Bridges and Roads) in Paris, France. It was in 1883, while studying at Paris, that he obtained American citizenship. However, he always maintained contact with Poland, wrote much in Polish, and emphasized his Polish origins.

In 1885 he graduated from the School of Bridges and Roads at the top of his class. The same year, he married Felicie Benda; the couple had three children. In 1931 they divorced after 16 year long separation. The same year the now 70 year old Modjeski married Virginia Mary Giblyn.

Ralph Modjeski, 1914

Modjeski returned to America to begin his career, working first under the "father of American bridge-building," George S. Morison. In 1893, in Chicago, Modjeski opened his own design office, which still exists as "Modjeski & Masters," after it was joined in 1924 by Frank M. Masters.

Modjeski's first project as chief engineer was the railroad bridge across the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois. During his career, he served as chief or consulting engineer on dozens of bridges around the country.

He took over the mis-designed Quebec Bridge after the 1907 disaster that killed 75 workers, and succeeded in creating the longest truss span in the world (though a construction accident killed another thirteen workers). It is still the longest cantilever bridge in the world.

Modjeski was famous as a designer of bridges and rail lines. He pioneered suspension bridges. He built nearly 40 bridges spanning the great rivers of North America. He trained succeeding generations of American bridge designers and builders, including Joseph B. Strauss, chief engineer of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge (which was completed six months after Modjeski's San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge).

Modjeski was considered[by whom?] "America's greatest bridge builder." He was the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees. In 1911 he received a doctorate in engineering from Illinois State University, in 1923 the Franklin Medal, in 1929 a doctorate honoris causa from the Lwów Polytechnic, in 1930 the prestigious John Fritz Medal.

He died June 26, 1940, in Los Angeles, California, nearly 80 years old.

Notable projects[edit]

See also[edit]



  • Glomb, Jozef (2002). A man who spanned two eras: The story of bridge engineer Ralph Modjeski. Peter J. Obst (trans.). Philadelphia: Kosciuszko Foundation. ISBN 978-0-917004-25-4.

External links[edit]