William Howe (architect)

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William Howe
Photograph of a man facing left, with chin beard and longish hair
William Howe
Born(1803-05-12)May 12, 1803
Spencer, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedSeptember 19, 1852(1852-09-19) (aged 49)
Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
OccupationArchitect, engineer

William Howe (May 12, 1803 – September 9, 1852) was an American architect and bridge builder famous for patenting the Howe truss design for bridges in 1840.[1]

Life and career[edit]

William Howe was born on May 12, 1803, in Spencer, Massachusetts,[2] to Elijah and Fanny (née Bemis) Howe.[3] His father owned a sawmill,[4] He was a hard-working child, and learned carpentry and construction at an early age. After successfully completing an apprenticeship in carpentry, he enrolled and graduated from Leicester Academy in Leicester, Massachusetts.[2]

Howe married Azubah Stone, daughter of a Charlton, Massachusetts, farmer (and sister of Amasa Stone) in 1828.[5] The Howe family was an inventive one. Howe's nephew, Elias Howe, patented the first viable sewing machine. Howe's older brother, Tyler Howe, invented the box spring bed.[6] William Howe established a career as a construction contractor, building homes and churches. He was particularly well-known for his churches.[2] But bridges were his primary interest, and he founded the Howe Bridge Works in 1840.[7]

In 1840, Howe was engaged to build a railroad bridge over the Connecticut River in Springfield, Massachusetts. This famous bridge was of a new, influential design—the Howe truss bridge, which Howe patented in 1840.[6] One of Howe's workmen, Amasa Stone, purchased for $40,000[8] ($1,085,733 in 2021 dollars) in 1842 the rights to Howe's patented bridge design. (Amasa Stone received financial backing from Azariah Boody, a Springfield businessman.)[9] The rights to the patent extended to bridges and structures erected only in New England.[8] That same year, the two men formed a bridge-building firm, Boody, Stone & Co.,[10] which erected a large number of Howe truss bridges throughout New England.[8]

Howe made additional improvements, and patented a second Howe truss design in 1846.[2]

William Howe suffered a severe carriage accident and died on September 19, 1852. He was buried in Springfield.[3]


  1. ^ Raymond W. Smith (December 1977), Covered Bridges of Washington County TR / Buskirk, Rexleigh, Eagleville, and Shushan Covered Bridges (pdf), National Park Service
  2. ^ a b c d Johnson 1879, p. 360.
  3. ^ a b Allen 1943, p. 23.
  4. ^ Hendrickson 2015, p. 443.
  5. ^ Daughters of the American Revolution 1898, p. 24.
  6. ^ a b Griggs, Frank Jr. (November 2014). "Springfield Bridge for Western Railroad". Structure. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  7. ^ Knoblock 2012, p. 60.
  8. ^ a b c Haddad 2007, p. 3.
  9. ^ Gasparini, Dario (Winter 2003). "Historic Bridge News" (PDF). Society for Industrial Archeology Newsletter: 14. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  10. ^ Johnson 1879, p. 384.