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Thomas Curtis Clarke

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Thomas Curtis Clarke (1827-1901), President of American Society of Civil Engineers (1897).

1901 Obituary [1]

THOMAS CURTIS CLAREE, born on the 26th September, 1827, at Newton, near Boston, Massachusetts, was educated at Boston Latin School, and at Harvard College, where he graduated in 1848.

His preliminary training as an engineer was obtained from Captain John Childe, of Springfield, Mass., under whom he was engaged on various railway surveys.

After spending some years on various railways in the United States, and in Canada, he made a special study of bridge building.

As an engineer of great ability in the construction of bridges, Mr. Clarke soon became widely known. One of the first of his works in that direction was the building of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy bridge at Quincy, Illinois, which spans the Mississippi. This bridge Mr. Clarke built without the intervention of contractors, except for the ironwork. He designed all the machinery and plant, and was so successful that, in spite of a season of unusually high water, he opened the bridge for traffic in fifteen months after the beginning.

Mr. Clarke was the senior partner in the firm of Clarke, Reeves & Co., of Phoenixville, Pa., which afterwards became the Phoenix Bridge Company. That Company carried out work all over the United States, comprising not only many of the most important bridges that have been built in that country, but a considerable part of the elevated railroads of New York.

In 1884 Mr. Clarke became one of the original members of the Union Bridge Company, which in a short time after its formation developed into one of the largest bridge-building concerns in the world. During Mr. Clarke’s connection with it, that Company built in Australia the famous Hawkesbury bridge, considered one of the most brilliant achievements of American engineers in foreign lands. Another bridge built about that time - of which Mr. Clarke had special charge - was across the Hudson at Poughkeepsie, the foundations of which are 135 feet below water.

Mr. Clarke died in New York City on the 15th June, 1901, after a short illness, in his seventy-fourth year. Of Mr. Clarke it was said that he had been concerned in the building of over 80 miles of bridges and viaducts. He was the Consulting Engineer of the Third Avenue and Willis Avenue Bridges at New York, for the design and of construction which he was entirely responsible. Mr. Clarke wrote numerous articles on engineering, many of which are preserved in the Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Only a few months ago he dealt with the subject of "Engineering" in a work entitled "The Progress of the Century," to which the most eminent men in other branches of knowledge similarly contributed articles. He was a Past-President of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Institute of Mining Engineers, and the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, the oldest scientific society in the United States.

Sir Benjamin Baker, Past-President, writes: "The death of my old friend Mr. Clarke will be sincerely lamented by many British engineers, for no one has done more than he to promote the cordial brotherly relationship which now happily exists between American and British engineers. It also severs one more link with the past, for Mr. Clarke’s early experience with bridge building was in the days when there was hardly one point of resemblance between American and British wrought-iron bridges, the former being modelled after the type of the original timber-truss construction and the latter on that of the cast-iron shallow-girder system. Mr. Clarke sometimes said that he shuddered when he thought of some of his early bridges, with long, slender cast-iron posts, slight lateral bracing, and totally inadequate pin-connections, even the floor girders being of the latter type, instead of the heavily-riveted low-stressed type which he lived to see substituted in all American bridge-work, as he also saw each country gradually introduce the good points of the other’s practice, so that no vital difference now distinguishes European and American bridges.”

Mr. Clarke was elected a Member of the Institution on the 5th May, 1874. In 1878 he contributed a valuable Paper entitled "The Design generally of Iron Bridges of very Large Span for Railway Traffic", for which he was awarded a Telford medal and Premium.

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