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Biographical Information

Name: Francis H. Bainbridge
Born in 1863
Deceased in December 1912 in , Cook County, Illinois, USA, North America

Notes & Comments

Francis H. Bainbridge, the son of Robert and Margaret (Smith) Bainbridge, graduated from Troy High School in 1880 and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the class of 1884 in civil engineering. His thesis was “A Review of the Mohawk River Bridge on the line of the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroad.” He was first an assistant engineer for Buck and McNully in New York, then assistant engineer for Edge Moor Iron Works in Wilmington, Delaware.1 He entered railway service as inspector of shops at Northern Pacific Railroad, then from 1886 to 1893, was a draftsman at Edge Moor Bridge Works at Wilmington, Delaware; from 1893 to 1895 he was resident engineer a the Pencoyd Iron Works and Mount Vernon Bridge Company in Chicago. From 1895 to 1898 he was first an engineer for the Buffalo & Niagara Falls Electric Railway; then in charge of the office of Albert Noble, civil engineer; with contracts on the Illinois Central Railroad and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. In 1895 he designed and patented an innovative metal dam system. This system was used to build a dam near Ash Fork, Arizona, to supply water for the railroad.

The Ashfork-Bainbridge Dam was the first large steel dam built, and one of only a handful constructed in the United States. The dam was fabricated by the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Company and shipped to the site in pieces. Dam construction began in 1897 and was completed on March 5, 1898, at a cost $63,519. Steel dams use relatively thin angled steel plates with a framework of steel girders to transmit the load to the ground. The weight of the water puts compressive forces on the girders that support the angled plates, transmitting the force to the ground without the bending moment that a vertical wall would experience. The central steel section of the dam is 184 feet (56 m) long, 46 feet (14 m) high, and weighs about 460,000 pounds (210,000 kg). The dam has no spillway and was designed to withstand overtopping with 6 feet (1.8 m) of water pouring directly over its crest. The dam is a registered historic landmark, identification number 76000373. George Lamb of the American Institute of Steel Construction described the condition of the dam as excellent with no evidence of corrosion or deterioration 50 years after its construction, “appears to be in as good condition as if it was just built.” Today, this innovative structure stands with negligible deterioration, providing water for wildlife, livestock and recreation. The Kaibab National Forest, USFS is now the owner of the dam.

From 1898 to 1902, Francis H. Bainbridge was in charge of construction work for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. From 1902 to April 1903, he was engineer for Western Expanded Metal Company. In April 1903 he began working for the Illinois Central Railroad, first as assistant engineer bridges, then as engineer for bridges from, June 1904 to Feb. 1, 1905. In Feb. 1, 1905 he became principal assistant engineer for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway.2 He was a member of American Society for Civil Engineering and served on the wooden bridges and trestles committee of the American Railroad Engineering Association. He was the resident engineer for the swing bridge at Clinton, Iowa, noted as a significant historic bridge. In 1910 he was the Resident Engineer for the Milwaukee, Sparta & Western Railway. He died of caisson disease in December, 1912, at the age 49 in Chicago, no doubt related to bridge foundation construction for the railroad. He was buried in Troy, New York.

Prepared by David A. Bainbridge, Associate Professor, Marshall Goldsmith School of Management, San Diego, CA 2009

Structures and Projects

Participation in the following structures & large-scale projects:



  1. Bainbridge, F. H. (1909): New Bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa (Chicago & Northwestern Railway). In: Engineering News, v. 61 (21 January 1909), pp. 63.
  2. Bainbridge, F. H. (1908): Methods and costs of testing for bridge foundations. In: Engineering-Contractor, v. 30 (November 1908), pp. 352.
  3. Bainbridge, F. H. (1905): Structural steel dams. In: Journal of the Society of Western Engineers, v. 10 ( 1905), pp. 615-631.
  4. Bainbridge, F. H. (1905): Structural steel dams. In: Engineering News, v. 54 ( 1905), pp. 323-324.
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