The Baltimore born Wendell Bollman (1814-1884) designed the first iron truss bridge in the United States. In 1847, working under the engineer Benjamin Henry Latrobe II, son of the U. S. Capitol’s architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Bollman was named head of the Harper’s Ferry, Virginia line of bridges for the B&O Railroad. Realizing that standard wooden bridges decayed too rapidly, he turned to the less frequently used iron for construction. The self-taught engineer’s structures performed well and the iron truss bridge was quickly adopted by his bosses. He received a patent for his truss design, vaulting him to the top of his profession. Wendell Bollman‘s importance to the advancement of American engineering is rooted in his methods. His use of math and logic helped pave the way for a more scientific approach to civil planning.
Only one Bollman bridge, located in Savage, MD, remains today. The rest have either been replaced or were destroyed. His most famous bridge (at Harper’s Ferry) was taken out several times during the Civil War. The strategic overpass was rebuilt and lasted until 1936, when it was wiped out during a devastating flood. However, two of his iron creations still adorn historic Baltimore buildings. The dome of City Hall‘s rotunda and the steeple of the First and Franklin Presbyterian Church were fashioned by Bollman.