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Whipple Truss Bridge
Partial reprintWhipple was born in Hardwick, Massachusetts in 1804 the son of a farmer. Between 1811 and 1817, his father designed, built and ran a cotton-spinning mill in nearby Greenwich, Massachusetts. The young Whipple was therefore exposed to construction and materials at an early age. The family then moved to Otsego County just north of Cooperstown, New York to take up farming again.
By Dr. Frank Griggs, Jr., P.E., P.L.S.
StructureMagazine, Sept. 2005 (online July 2018)
After receiving the best common school education available he attended Hartwick Academy and Fairfield Academy located in central New York near his home. In 1830 he graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York after one year of study. He spent the decade of the 1830s serving his apprenticeship working on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the Erie Canal Enlargement, the New York and Erie Railroad and several other railroads. When work was slow, he designed, built and sold mathematical instruments such as transits and engineer’s levels and drafting equipment. He married later in life and had no children.
In 1841, he designed and built a weigh lock scale with a capacity of 300 tons to weigh the canal boats on the Enlarged Erie Canal in Utica. This was the largest weighing device in the country at the time.
Whipple became interested in the design and construction of iron and wooden bridges. Having worked on the enlargement of the Erie Canal, he knew that wooden bridges that crossed the original canal had a short-life. He also knew that the new, wider canal would require longer span bridges and must be made of a modern material-iron.
After some thought, he designed his bowstring iron truss arch and was issued patent No. 2,064 on April 24, 1841 for the “construction of iron truss bridges”.
Between 1842 and 1870, hundreds of Whipple Bridges were built over the Erie and its branch canals, either by Whipple or to his patent. Frequently contractors would build to his patent without paying patent fees, so he never received large sums of money from people using his patent.
Perhaps his major accomplishment was A Work on Bridge Building consisting of Two Essays, The One Elementary and General, the other Giving Original Plans and Practical Details for Iron and Wooden Bridges, which he wrote and published in 1847.
Whipple retired around 1860 but continued to design swing and lift bridges, building many swing bridges over the Erie, Portland and Welland Canals. In December 1872, he designed and patented, #134,338, the first vertical lift bridge in the United States and built it over the Erie Canal in Utica in 1874.
Whipple died in Albany, NY on March 15, 1888 at the age of 84.
2009 photo ... Commercial Slip, Buffalo, NY