William Milnor Roberts

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William Milnor Roberts

William Milnor Roberts (February 12, 1810 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – July 14, 1881 in Soledad, Brazil)[1] was an American civil engineer. As a young civil engineer involved in the construction of the Eads Bridge, the chief engineer of Northern Pacific Railroad, America's second transcontinental railroad, and president of the American Society of Civil Engineers scarcely two decades after its founding, Roberts was one of the most prolific and prominent civil engineer of his generation in the United States.

Personal life[edit]

Roberts was born to Thomas Paschall and Mary Louise (Baker) Roberts. He married Annie Gibson in June, 1837. He married Adeline Beelen in November, 1868. He had at least nine children.


In 1826, he served as an assistant in survey and construction, Lehigh Canal, between Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia.

From 1831 to 1834, he served as senior assistant engineer for the proposed Allegheny Portage Railroad, and general manager from 1834 to 1835.

In 1837, he served as chief engineer, Lancaster and Harrisburg. He was in charge of construction of a two-level lattice-truss bridge across the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

From 1834 to 1840, he was in charge of extensions of Pennsylvania State Canals; Bellefontaine and Indiana, Allegheny Valley, Atlantic and Mississippi, and Iron Mountain.

From 1855 to 1857, he was chairman, Commission to Consider Reconstruction of Allegheny Portage; constructed railroads in Middle West.

In 1865, he contracted to build Don Pedro Segundo, Brazil. In 1866, he proposed improvements to the Mississippi River at Keokuk, Iowa.

Office of Ohio River Improvement[edit]

In 1866, he was the U.S. engineer in charge of improvement of navigation of Ohio River, established the Office of Ohio River Improvement at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[2]

Eads Bridge Construction[edit]

In 1868, he served as associate chief engineer in construction of Eads Bridge across Mississippi River at St. Louis.

Northern Pacific Railroad[edit]

From 1869 to 1879, he was engineer-in-chief of the Northern Pacific Railroad. In 1878 -1879, Roberts led the survey party that explored the cascade mountain passes for route location. In the process, for the railroad whi

Mississippi River Jetty Commission[edit]

From 1879 to 1881, he was a member of the Mississippi River Jetty Commission and chief engineer, all public works in Brazil. He served as vice-president of the American Society of Civil Engineers from 1873 to 1878, and as president in 1878.


  • Cumberland Valley Railroad Company, & Roberts, W. M. (1835). Report of William Milnor Roberts, chief engineer of the Cumberland Valley Rail Road Company, made to the Board, on the 23d Oct., 1835. Philadelphia: J.C. Clark, printer.
  • Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy, and Lancaster Railroad Company., & Roberts, W. M. (1836). Report of the chief engineer to the president and directors of the Harrisburg and Lancaster Rail Road Company. Middletown, Pa: Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad Company.
  • Cumberland Valley Railroad Company. (1837). Second report of William Milnor Roberts chief engineer of the Cumberland valley rail road company, made to the Board, 29th December 1836. Chambersburg, Pa: Hickok & Blood. OCLC Number: 84618930 (Roberts also made a third report to the Board in 1837, see OCLC Number: 950908210
  • Roberts, W. M., & Clark, J. C. (1838). Third annual report of W. Milnor Roberts, chief engineer of the Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad Company: Made to the board, January 8th, 1838. Philadelphia: Printed by John C. Clark.
  • Roberts, W. M. (1846). Report to the Board of directors: On the Sandy & Beaver Canal. New Lisbon, Ohio: J. Wilkinson, printer.
  • Roberts, W. M., Columbia-Philadelphia Railroad., & Pennsylvania. (1848). Report of W. Milnor Roberts, Esq., (civil engineer,) on the survey of a route to avoid the Schuylkill inclined plane, on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad: Authorized by the act of the eleventh April, eighteen hundred and forty-eight, entitled "An act to provide for the ordinary expenses of government," &c. Philadelphia?: publisher not identified.
  • Roberts, W. M. (1850). Report on the preliminary surveys for the Bellefontaine & Indiana rail road company. Pittsburgh,Pa.: Printed by Johnson & Stockton. See also [3] for map of railroad
  • Allegheny Valley Railroad Company., & Haven, W. S. (1853). Report on the surveys of the Allegheny Valley rail road: Read before the president and board, July 26, 1853. Pittsburg: Printed by W.S. Haven. OCLC Number: 10807508
  • Roberts, W. M., Erie and North East Railroad Company., & Constitution Book and Job Office (Firm). (1856). Report relative to the surveys of routes for the Pittsburg and Erie rail road: Read at a meeting of the stockholders of the Erie and North East Rail Road Company at Erie, July 8th,1856. Erie, Penn: Printed at the Constitution Book and Job Office.
  • Roberts, W. M. (1856). Improvement of the Ohio River. Pittsburgh: Published by order of the Board of Trade.
  • Roberts, W. M., & Jay Cooke & Co. (1866). Report on the present state and prospects of the North Missouri Railroad: Upon examinations made for Messrs. Jay Cooke & Co. by W. Milnor Roberts, consulting engineer, June, 1866. Philadelphia: McLaughlin Bros.
  • Roberts, W. M. (1868). Report of W. Milnor Roberts, consulting engineer, to the president and managers of the Erie Canal Company of Pennsylvania. Erie, Pa: Republican Print.
  • Roberts, W. M., & Jay Cooke & Co. (1869).Special Report of a reconnoissance [sic] of the route for the Northern Pacific Railroad between Lake Superior and Puget Sound via the Columbia River, Philadelphia?: J. Cooke & Co.?.
  • Roberts, W. M., Flad, H., & Whitman, T. J. (1869). Preliminary report with reference to extension of the new Pittsburgh Water Works.
  • Northern Pacific Railroad Company., Roberts, W. M., & Joseph Meredith Toner Collection (Library of Congress). (1874). Report of the chief engineer on the unfinished portion of the Northern Pacific Railroad: Made to the president of the company, April 27, 1874. New York: Evening Post Steam Presses.
  • Roberts, W. M., (1874), Engineering, Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, 1874, Vol. II, Issue 1, Pg. 69-80
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)., & Roberts, W. M. (1875). Report on the water supply for the city of Philadelphia: Made by the commission of engineers appointed by the mayor under the ordinance of councils, approved June 5th, 1875. Philadelphia: E.C. Markley & Son, printers.
  • Roberts, W. M., (1878) Reminiscences and experiences of Early Engineering Operations on Railroads, With Special Reference to Steep Inclines, Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, 1878, Vol. VII, Issue 1, Pg. 197-215
  • Relatorio de W. Milnor Roberts, engenheiro chefe da Commissão hydraulica sobre o exame do Rio S. Francisco: Desde o mar até a cachoeira de Pirapóra : extensão de 2.122 kilometros : feito em 1879-1880.Roberts, W. M., Roberts, W. M., Derby, O. A., & Sampaio, T. (1880), Rio de Janeiro: Typographia nacional.


  • Milnor, North Dakota, was named after several individuals associated with the Northern Pacific (NP) railroad, William Edward Milnor, the first telegrapher at the NP's Milnor Station, and William Milnor Roberts, the chief engineer of the railroad.[3]


  1. ^ An Obituary Notice of William Milnor Roberts, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 20, No. 111 (Jan. - Jun., 1882), pp. 199-202, Published by: American Philosophical Society, Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/982713, Page Count: 4
  2. ^ "Chronology of Command: Cincinnati Engineer District, 1871-1946", United States Army Corps of Engineers
  3. ^ Milnor History Book,2008 Accessed at [1], See also Congressional Record material at [2]


  • Smalley, E. V. (1883). History of the Northern Pacific Railroad. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. [4] accessed at [5]
  • The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. (1940) New York: James T. White, p. 447.
  • Nolan, E. W., & Roberts, W. M. (1971). Exploring the Northern Pacific Railroad route: W. Milnor Roberts' letters from the expedition of 1869. M.A. University of Oregon, OCLC Number:10282350
  • Lubetkin, M. John. (2014) Jay Cooke's Gamble: The Northern Pacific Railroad, the Sioux, and the Panic of 1873. University of Oklahoma Press.

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