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Walter Katte

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Colonel Walter Katte (Katté) (1830-1917) was a British-born American civil engineer.

Born in London on 14 November 1830. He graduated from King's College London. He emigrated to the USA in 1849, and died in New York City on 4 March 1917.[1]

A detailed memoir of his life and work was published in Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers[2]. Most of the memoir is transcribed below:-

Walter Katte was the son of Edwin Katte, and the grandson of Edwin Katte, a political refugee from Prussia during the reign of Frederick the Great. His mother, Isabel Chambers, was the granddaughter of John Chambers, a celebrated boat builder on the Thames, London. Walter Katte was educated in Kings College School, London, and, after his graduation, spent three years as an apprentice in the office of a civil engineer.

In 1849, he emigrated to the USA and became a clerk and draiughtsman for the Chief Engineer of the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Later, he served as an Assistant Engineer on the Belvidere and Delaware Railroad. In the early Fifties, he acted as Engineer for a land development company, and laid out the Town of Deerman, now Irvington-on-Hudson. For three years from 1854, he was Chief Assistant Engineer on the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Later, he acted, successively, as Resident Engineer of the Pennsylvania State Canals, as Assistant Engineer of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad, and the Pittsburgh and Steubenville Railroad, until the outbreak of the Civil War.

In 1859, he married his first wife, Margaret Jack, who died in 1864, leaving one son.

1861 and 1862: Served as a Colonel of Engineers in the Union Army, and was assigned to bridge work in Washington, D. C, and at various points in Virginia and Maryland. He was the engineer in charge of the construction of the so-called "Long Bridge" over the Potomac River at Washington.

In 1863 Col. Katte was engaged as Chief Engineer of the Lewiston Branch of the Pennsylvania Eailroad, and, later, as Resident Engineer and Engineer of Bridges and Buildings on the Northern Central Railroad, from Baltimore to Elmira, N. Y.

Col. Katte compiled and wrote the first "Carnegie Pocket Companion" published at the request of the Carnegie Steel Company.

Katte wrote:

"In 1865 to 1868, I was resident in Pittsburgh as Engineer and Secretary of the Keystone Bridge Company. In 1868, that company and the Union Iron Mills of Pittsburgh (Carnegie Bros., Kloman, Phipps & Co.) decided to enter the western field in competitive business and to establish an office and representative in Chicago for that purpose; I was chosen for that position. The Keystone Bridge Company had at that time already under contract the manufacture and erection of the superstructures of the Hannibal & St. Joe Railroad Company's bridge over the Missouri River, at Kansas City, and the Illinois Central Railroad Company's bridge over the Mississippi River, at Dubuque. I was also was negotiating contracts for bridges, later consummated, for Mississippi River at Keokuk, Ia, Louisiana, Mo., and St. Louis, Mo.

"I proceeded to Chicago and opened there the western office of the Keystone Bridge Company and the Union Iron Mills, of Pittsburgh. Pa., and took personal charge, as agent and representative, of the field operations under these contracts.

"In 1870. negotiations for the great steel arch bridge over the Mississippi River at St. Louis were being actively promoted by Mr. Andrew Carnegie and myself, and finally consummated in the execution of a contract, signed by Capt. James B. Eads, as President of the Illinois & St. Louis Bridge Company, and by myself, on the part of the Keystone Bridge Company, under the terms of which, the Keystone Bridge Company undertook and obligated itself to perfect the mechanical details of the shop drawings of the superstructures, supply all materials for, and manufacture of, same, design plans for erection, and to erect it and assume all responsibility for the successful completion of the erection.

"I was assigned to take personal charge, as Resident Engineer, of said erection. As the responsibility for the successful consummation of same was of extreme gravity, I felt the paramount necessity of my personal presence on the work continuously, which, of course, resulted in the closing of my office in Chicago and the removal of same to St. Louis, which was effected early in 1871, and the joint Western office of the Keystone Bridge Company and the Union Iron Mills, of Pittsburgh, Pa., was opened under my charge at No. 211 Washington Avenue, St. Louis, Mo.

"About this time, or a little later, Mr. Thomas Carnegie suggested to me his desire to issue a handy 'Pocket Book' as a desirable assistant to Engineers and Architects in making proper selections, suited to their requirements, of the various products of the Union Iron Mills and asked me to compile the mss. for it, which I did. It was all written by my own hand from time to time in such leisure moments as were available, notwithstanding the pressing demands of my every day work, most of it done at home in evenings— and that's about all the early history that this little progenitor has to claim. It proved, however, a great success when issued, and there was, so Thomas Carnegie told me, a great demand for it, and he wrote me that he had received many letters from Engineers and Architects using it — highly extolling its usefulness and wondering why such a handy little vade mecum had not been issued long before."

While living in St. Louis, Col. Katte was married to Elizabeth Pendleton Britton, daughter of the Hon. James H. Britton, a prominent banker and later Mayor of that city.

After the completion of the St. Louis Bridge, Col. Katte was called to New York City to take the position of Chief Engineer of the New York Elevated Railroad Company, and from 1877 to 1880, he built the initial portions of the Third Avenue and Ninth Avenue Elevated Railroads, which were the first elevated steam railroads.

His next work was the construction of the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad, from Weehawken, N. J., to Middletown, N. Y. ; then the building of the West Shore Railroad from New York City to Buffalo, which was followed by the construction of the Jersey Junction Railroad, connecting the West Shore Railroad with the Pennsylvania Railroad, at Jersey City. This work occupied his time between 1880 and 1886.

In 1886, Col. Katte became Chief Engineer of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company, which, at that time, absorbed the West Shore Railroad. His most important work while in the employ of this Company was the four-tracking and depressing of the tracks, in New York City, north of the Harlem River, this work being known as the Harlem Depression; the construction of the four-track steel viaduct in Park Avenue, New York City, and the four-track drawbridge over the Harlem River, which is still the largest drawbridge in existence. In 1898, Col. Katte resigned his position with the New York Central Company and, in his letter of resignation, stated: "The recent absorption of other railroad lines into the Vanderbilt System had so multiplied the duties of the office of the Chief Engineer, that he felt that a younger man was necessary for the work." In accepting his resignation, the Hon. Chauncey M. Depew, then President of the Railroad Company said: "Col. Katte is one of the foremost engineers in the world. He is still connected with the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company as Consulting Engineer, and will be as long as he lives."

Col. Katte was one of the original thirteen founders of the Western Society of Civil Engineers of which he only recently was elected an Honorary Member. He was also a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, of Great Britain.

During his active engineering life. Col. Katte made frequent contributions to technical papers and to the Transactions of the National Engineering Societies. He published one of the first sets of standard specifications for railroad construction work, and had taken out several U. S. Patents, the one in most general use being his so-called "Three-tie rail joint."

Important daily papers at the time of Col. Katte's death were unanimous in their expression of the fine quality of his engineering work, one commenting editorially as follows :

"Col. Katte was a fine American, a great railroad builder, and had won first place among our civil engineers. He knew and cared little about the devious ways of financing railroads; everything about construction and operation. Half a century of such activity fairly earned a period of repose. Col. Katte's later years were peaceful, calm, uneventful. He will live in the memory of his profession as a man who saw things clearly and who did things thoroughly. That is, from the practical viewpoint, the highest of encomiums."

Col. Katte enjoyed nearly nineteen years in quiet retirement. His health was excellent, with the exception of almost total deafness ; his mind alert and vigorous; his spirit strong and serene until the day of his death. He died at his home, in New York City, on March 4th, 1917, and is survived by a widow, two sons, and a daughter.

Col. Katte was elected a Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers on October 7th, 1868, and served as a Director in 1885 and 1889.'


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] Wikipedia entry for Walter Katte.
  2. [2] Memoir of Walter Katte, by George W. Kittredge, Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers (Volume 81)