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Benjamin Henry Latrobe

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Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764–1820), architect and engineer.

He was among the earliest professional engineers and architects to emigrate to the United States, settling in Virginia in 1796.

1764 He was was born on 1 May 1764 in Fulneck, a village near Leeds, Yorkshire, and the earliest self-contained Moravian settlement in the country. He was the second son of Benjamin La Trobe (1728–1786), a minister who became the elder of the Moravian congregation in Britain, and Anna Margaretta Antes (1728–1794), a Moravian from Pennsylvania.

He began his engineering studies under John Smeaton, builder of the Eddystone Lighthouse and of the ill-fated Hexham Bridge. While in Smeaton's office he worked on improvements for Rye harbour in Sussex and on the Basingstoke Canal.

From around 1789 until 1792 he was a pupil in the office of Samuel Pepys Cockerell, which involved him in a number of commissions for the Admiralty as well as country-house work including Warren Hastings's Indian-style mansion at Daylesford in Gloucestershire (1789–93).

1790 After his marriage in 1790 to Lydia Sellon (c.1761–1793) he set up an architectural and engineering practice of his own, working on an (unexecuted) major project, the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation

1793 His wife died in child birth and he was left with two small children, Lydia and Henry.

In November 1795 he sailed for Norfolk, Virginia, where he arrived in March of the following year.

1820 He died of yellow fever on 3 September 1820 in New Orleans, where he was buried in the protestant cemetery.

Clean Water Supply

'It is not too much to say that Benjamin Henry Latrobe, America’s first civil engineer, gave his life to create the ready supply of fresh water that is critical to modern city and suburban life.' This is a quotation from an interesting account of Latrobe's work in the USA, principally focusing on his provsion of clean water.[1]

Latrobe and US Railroads

From 'The English Influence On American Railroads'[2] :-

'In answering Gallatin's request for information on canals and turnpikes, he volunteered information on railroads. First, a railroad might be used as an adjunct to canals, "a last resort," an expensive, inconvenient and imperfect means of crossing high areas where water is scarce. Then, in a critical analysis of the canals already built along the Susquehanna, Potomac and James Rivers, he suggested that railroads could make the coal from the James River Field more available to tidewater, especially by a line from Ampthill up Hall's Creek.

'In a postscript, Latrobe added a "few remarks on railroads . . . [because] public attention has been often called to this sort of improvement, and the public mind filled with very imperfect conceptions of its utility. " Telling that either timber or iron rails might be used for construction and that cast iron laid on stone was more durable, he advised that cast iron rails on beds of timber were both durable and within the ability of this country to finance. The gauge recommended varies from 3½ to five feet; rails are described at 5/8" thick and L-shaped (wheels unflanged) laid on timber rails. Cost per mile of double track is estimated at $10,000, with the iron being nearly three-fourths of the cost, $7,240. Capacity with a single horse is rated at eight tons in four wagons.

'The astonishing loads drawn by a single horse on English railroads, Latrobe told, had raised hopes that railroads would soon be built in the United States. Their utility, he repeated, would be confined to the James River Coal Fields, or from the marble quarries near Philadelphia, to the Schuylkill River. Finally, railroads as a means of overcoming difficult parts or artificial navigation are termed " invaluable and in many instances offer the means of accomplishing distant lines of communication which might remain impractical even to our means for centuries to come. "

'Printed in two 1808 editions, this report was reprinted twice in 1811, and four times in the next eleven years. Latrobe's sons, John Hazelhurst and Benjamin H., and his pupils, Robert Mills, of South Carolina, and William Strickland, of Philadelphia, built and planned America's earliest railroads. Latrobe, however, hadn't recognized the value of Oliver Evans' 1786 high-pressure steam carriage, a predecessor of the locomotive. He reported to Philadelphia's American Philosophical Society that it was impractical.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] 'Introducing…clean Water' by Darwin H. Stapleton, Invention & Technology Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3
  2. [2]'The English Influence On American Railroads' by EARL J. HEYDINGER, Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin, no. 91 (1954)