David B. Steinman


David B. Steinman

Bridges – Education – Aerodynamics – Scholarship – Expressways

Florianopolis – Henry Hudson – Thousand Islands – Mackinac Strait – St. Johns

Sixteenth National Honor Member Nominated by the City College of New York Chapter

From June 11, 1887, to his death on August 22, I960, David Barnard Steinman lived a full life of seventy-three years. In all but the first twenty years, required for his upbringing and his schooling, he concentrated on the advancement of the civil engineering profession. His professional image was that of a dedicated extrovert. He believed firmly that the only way that a civil engineer, however competent, could make himself known professionally useful in the world at large was to promote acquaintanceship in a spirit of mutual trust. He believed the same for his firm as for himself; and that he believed the same for his chosen profession is attested by the National Society of Professional Engineers, which he founded. Because of his belief, every qualified engineer in the United States, now and in the future, can use the initials P.E. (Professional Engineer) after his name, even as doctors of medicine can use the initials M.D. In addition, he found rime to write a number of books on the history of bridges, including “The Builders of the Bridge,” which is the story of the Brooklyn Bridge. Beyond this, he was the author of several books of poems on many subjects.

The details of his professional career are a matter of record, readily available; and to read them, even as raw statistics is a dramatic experience. It would require a 100,000-word book to do full justice to this man’s career. A much simplified, codified tabulation in “Who’s Who in Engineering” (Eighth Edition, 1959, page 2351) requires 13,000 to 14,000 words.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, he graduated from the College of the City of New York, summa cum laude, in 1906. Three years later, with the help of a fellowship, he earned a degree of civil engineer (C.E.) from Columbia University School of Mines; and, with two annual scholarships in applied science, a master’s degree (A.M.) from Columbia University. In two more years, with a one-year scholarship in engineering he had earned his doctor’s degree (Ph.D.) from Columbia. His thesis was entitled, “The Design of the Henry Hudson Memorial Bridge as a Steel Arch,” a study that became reality twenty-five years later.

In his college days, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. He was elected to Sigma Xi in 1951, and then to Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Alpha. In the four years, 1906-1910, while buried in a full schedule of graduate work, he was engaged also in a variety of engineering work, for experience. The first ten years of his true career were spent as a consulting engineer and as a teacher (beginning as a full professor) at the University of Idaho (1910-1914). He was the youngest full professor in the United States at that time. From 1914-1917, he was special assistant to Gustav Lindenthal on the Hell Gate Arch Bridge and other bridges in the metropolitan area of New York. From 1917 to 1920, he served as professor of civil and mechanical engineering at his alma mater, the College of the City of New York. In 1934, the C.C.N.Y. Alumni Association presented Dr. Steinman with the Townsend Harris medal for Professional Achievements. In 1947, C.C.N.Y. again honored its distinguished graduate with an honorary doctor of science degree (Sc.D.). The new engineering building at the City College was dedicated and named Steinman Hall in 1963. The Hall of Fine Arts, Bethany College, Bethany, West Virginia, was named and dedicated to David and Irene Steinman, May, 1968.

From 1920 to the end of his days, Dr. Steinman was identified with the conception, design, or construction of major bridge projects in five continents. He entered private practice in 1921 in partnership with Holton D. Robinson. The new firm entered and won the competition to design the Florianopolis Bridge in Brazil. This bridge was the longest bridge in South American and the longest eye-bar suspension bridge in the world at that time. During the partnership which lasted twenty-four years, until the death of Mr. Robinson, the firm designed more than three hundred structures. Among the more notable of these are the Carquinez Bridge in California, the Mount Hope Bridge in Rhode Island, the Henry Hudson Bridge in New York, and the Thousand Islands Bridge connecting the United States and Canada. Perhaps one of the most impressive of all his structures, and one that incorporates all the principles of successful bridge building, is his St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon. Although the original appropriation for the structure was $4,250,000 for a three-lane structure, 125 feet above the river, by scientific design a beautiful and lasting four-lane bridge, 250 feet above the water, was constructed for $3,500,000.

The Carquinez Strait Bridge in California was the first ever designed against earthquake forces, and was then the largest cantilever bridge in the United States. The Waldo-Hancock Bridge in Maine was followed by the Thousand Islands Bridge, aforementioned, with its eight miles of overpasses, viaducts, and connecting highways. To mention only the Florianopolis Bridge, the Carquinez Strait Bridge, the Thousand Islands Bridge joining the United States and Canada, the Martin Pena Channel Bridge in Puerto Rico, the proposed Messina Strait Bridge in Italy, the famous Mackinac Strait Bridge, the Kingston Bridge, the proposed bridge across the Bosphorus in Turkey, the Karradah Bridge in Bagdad, Iraq, the Ayub Bridge in Pakistan, and the reconstruction of the Brooklyn Bridge—is to do scant justice to the total career of David B. Steinman.

Consistent with his life-time image, Steinman was an active member of eighty or more technical and non-technical societies, several of them as founder, president, and chairman of active, working committees. He joined the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1910 and served as president of the Metropolitan Section and chairman of the structural division. He contributed seven papers and many technical discussions to ASCE Transactions, and received four of the society’s medals and prizes for them: the Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize in 1929; the J. James R. Croes Medal in 1919, and the Norman Medal in 1923, and again in 1951. The latter was for his paper, “Rigidity and Aerodynamic Stability of Suspension Bridges.” He received the American Institute of Steel Construction Artistic Bridges award in 1930, 1932, 1937, 1938, and 1940. In particular, there should be mentioned a gold medal awarded as a “Recognition by the Engineers of France, especially designed and minted in his honor” for his outstanding contribution to the engineering sciences. In all, he was the recipient of forty or more medals, scrolls, and citations, both from organizations in the United States and abroad. He received eighteen honorary degrees from all over the world.

Between 1930 and 1943, he served successively as vice-chairman, and chairman of the Committee on Registration of Engineers ASCE; and in that period, he was a member, vice-chairman, and chairman of the New York State Board of Licensing for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, and president of the National Council of State Boards of Engineering Examiners. In 1933-39, he was a member of the executive committee of the Engineers Council for Professional Development (ECPD) while at the same time (1933-34) serving on the ASCE Committee on Professional Recognition. He also founded and was first president (1934) of the International Toll Bridge, Turnpike, and Tunnel Association.

In order to protect the public against unscrupulous and incompetent engineers, Dr. Steinman founded the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1934. He was instrumental in having a New York State law enacted requiring all engineering corporations to have their chief executives and key designing personnel registered professional engineers.

One feels that David Steinman would like most of all to be remembered as the founder of the National Society of Professional Engineers. He was elected to Honor Membership in the City College chapter of Chi Epsilon and the Fraternity elevated him to the grade of National Honor Member on May 20, 1950, the sixteenth member to be so elevated in the Fraternity’s twenty-eight years of existence.

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