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Othmar Ammann

Swiss-American engineer and designer of the largest bridges of the city of New York.

Biographical Information

Name: Othmar Ammann
Full name: Othmar Hermann Ammann
Born on 26 March 1879 in , Zurich, Switzerland, Europe
Deceased on 22 September 1965 in , Westchester County, New York, USA, North America
Student of
Place(s) of activity:
1898 - 1902

Studies at the Federal Technological Institue in Zurich (Switzerland) under Wilhelm Ritter and others.

1904

Immigrates to the United States, works for Joseph Meyer, New York

1905

Assistant to the chief engineer of Pennsylvania Steel Co., cooperates on the design of the Queensboro Bridge, New York

1909 - 1912

Works for F.C. Kunz and C.C. Schneider in Philadelphia

1912

Works for Gustav Lindenthal and helps with the construction of the Hell Gate Bridge, and the Sciotoville Bridge, designs the George Washington Bridge

1925 - 1939

Director of Engineering at the Port of New York Authority

1932

Honorary Doctorate, New York University

1933

Chief engineer for the Triborough Bridge Authority under whose guidance are built: Triborough Bridge, Henry Hudson Bridge and Marine Parkway Bridge

1937

Honorary Doctorate, Pennsylvania Military Academy

1939

Opens his own engineering office

1941

Honorary Doctorate, Columbia University

1946

Teams up with Charles S. Whitney to form Ammann and Whitney

Biography

Othmar Ammann was born near Schaffhausen, Switzerland in 1879. His father was a manufacturer and his mother was a hat maker. He received his engineering education at the Polytechnikum in Zürich, Switzerland. He studied with Swiss engineer Wilhelm Ritter. In 1904, he emigrated to the United States, spending much of his career working in New York City. He became a naturalized citizen in 1924.

In 1905 he briefly returned to Switzerland to marry Lilly Selma Wehrli. Together they had three children – Werner, George, and Margot – before she died in 1933. He then married Klary Vogt Noetzli, herself recently widowed, in 1935 in California.

Ammann wrote two reports about bridge collapses, the collapse of the Quebec Bridge and the collapse of the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Galloping Gertie). It was the report that he wrote about the failure of the Quebec Bridge in 1907 that first earned him recognition in the field of bridge design engineering. Because of this report, he was able to obtain a position working for Gustav Lindenthal on the Hell Gate Bridge. By 1925, he had been appointed bridge engineer to the Port of New York Authority. His design for a bridge over the Hudson River was accepted over one developed by his mentor, Lindenthal. (Lindenthal's "North River Bridge" designs show an enormous, 16+ lane bridge that would have accommodated pedestrians, freight trains, rapid transit, and automobile traffic. The bridge, which would have entered Manhattan at 57th Street, was rejected in favor of Ammann's designs primarily due to cost reasons.)

Ultimately, this became the George Washington Bridge. Under Ammann's direction, it was completed six months ahead of schedule for less than the original $60 million budget. Ammann's designs for the George Washington Bridge, and, later, the Bayonne Bridge, caught the attention of master builder Robert Moses, who drafted Ammann into his service. The last four of Ammann's six New York City bridges — Triborough, Bronx-Whitestone, Throgs Neck, and Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge were all built for Moses' Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. In 1946, Ammann and Charles Whitney founded the firm Ammann & Whitney. In 1964, Ammann opened the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York, that had the world's longest suspended span of 4,260 feet (1,300 m), and the world's heaviest suspension bridge of its time. The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge is currently the eleventh-longest span in the world and longest in the Western Hemisphere. Ammann also assisted in the building of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, currently ranked twelfth.

Works

Ammann designed more than half of the eleven bridges that connect New York City to the rest of the United States. His talent and ingenuity helped him create the two longest suspension bridges of his time. Ammann was known for being able to create bridges that were light and inexpensive, yet they were still simple and beautiful. He was able to do this by using the deflection theory. He believed that the weight per foot of the span and the cables would provide enough stiffness so that the bridge would not need any stiffening trusses. This made him popular during the depression era when being able to reduce the cost was crucial. Famous bridges by Ammann include the following:

  • George Washington Bridge (opened October 24, 1931)
  • Bayonne Bridge (opened November 15, 1931)
  • Triborough Bridge (opened July 11, 1936)
  • Bronx–Whitestone Bridge (opened April 29, 1939)
  • Walt Whitman Bridge (opened May 16, 1957)
  • Throgs Neck Bridge (opened January 11, 1961)
  • Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge (opened November 21, 1964)

The George Washington Bridge was originally designed to have its steel structure clad in dressed stone, omitted from the final design due to cost constraints stemming from the Great Depression. Ammann's managerial skills saw the bridge completed ahead of schedule and under budget.

The arched Bayonne Bridge is the only Othmar design that is not a suspension bridge.

The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge had to be reinforced after only one year of operation because of perceptible movement during high winds. Warren trusses were initially implemented to stiffen the bridge, spoiling its classic streamlined looks. They have been removed and the wind problem solved using triangular shaped lightweight fiberglass aerodynamic fairing along both sides that slices the wind as it passes over the bridge.

In addition to his work on bridges, Ammann also directed the planning and construction of the Lincoln Tunnel.

Legacy

Through his career, Ammann was the recipient of several awards, including the Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize (1919), the Metropolitan Section Civil Engineer of the Year (1958), the Ernest E. Howard Award (1960) and the National Medal of Science (1964).

In 1962, a bronze bust of Ammann was unveiled in the lobby of the George Washington Bridge Bus Station. A residence hall called Ammann College was dedicated in his honor on February 18, 1968 on the campus of Stony Brook University. To mark the hundredth anniversary of his birth, a memorial plaque for Ammann was placed near the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge on June 28, 1979.

Text imported from Wikipedia article "Othmar_Ammann" and modified on 22 July 2019 according to the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

Structures and Projects

Participation in the following structures & large-scale projects:

assistant to chief engineer
bridge engineer
chief engineer
consulting engineer
design consultant
designer
senior partner

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Bibliography

  1. Ammann, Othmar H. / von Kármán, Theodore / Woodruff, Glenn B. (1941): The Failure of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Federal Works Agency, Washington (USA).
  2. Ammann, Othmar H. (1918): The Hell Gate Arch Bridge and Approaches of the New York Connecting Railroad over th East River in New York City. In: Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, n. 82 ( 1918), pp. 852-1004, 1005-39.
  3. Ammann, Othmar H. (1933): Advances in Bridge Construction. In: Civil Engineering Magazine, v. 3, n. 8 (August 1933), pp. 428-32.
  4. Ammann, Othmar H. (1946): Additional Stiffening of Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. In: Civil Engineering Magazine, v. 16, n. 3 (March 1946), pp. 101-3.
  5. Ammann, Othmar H. (1933): General Conception and Development of Design, George Washington Bridge. In: Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, n. 97 ( 1933), pp. 43, 62.
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  • About this
    data sheet
  • Person-ID
    1000001
  • Date created
    29/12/1998
  • Last Update
    22/07/2014