- Benjamin Wright
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October 10, 1770
August 24, 1842
Erie Canal Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
Benjamin Wright (
October 10, 1770– August 24, 1842) was a noted American civil engineerwho served as Chief Engineer of both the Erie Canaland Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. In 1969 he was declared the "Father of American Civil Engineering" by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Wright was born in
Wethersfield, Connecticutto Ebenezer Wright and Grace Butler. In 1789, at age 19, he moved with his family to Rome, New Yorkwhere he became a surveyor. In 1794, at age 24, he was hired as a surveyor and planner by the famed English canal designer William Weston. Working for Weston, he helped lay out canals and locks on the Mohawk River. After Weston returned to England in 1790, Wright was commissioned to survey the Mohawk River between Schenectadyand Rome, New York, and then from Rome to the Hudson River.
In 1816 funding for the
Erie Canalwas in place, and in 1817, Wright was named Chief Engineer. In this position he led thousands of unskilled laborers as they built the canal with the aid of wheelbarrows, hand tools, horses, and mules. In Wright's honor, the first boat to traverse the canal system was named the "Chief Engineer".
After completion of the Erie Canal, he was approached by the Wurts brothers of Philadelphia to survey a posible route from the coalfields of
Northeastern Pennsylvaniato the Hudson, where anthracitecould be shipped by boat downriver to New York City. This became the Delaware and Hudson Canal, and remained in operation until 1898.
When that canal was finished in 1828, Wright was made Chief Engineer of the newly organized
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Within a year, Wright had let contracts for a massive construction effort that encompassed about 6,000 men and 700 horses.
In addition to his engineering work, Wright was also elected to the New York State Legislature (1794), and appointed a New York county judge. He married Philomela Waterman on
September 27, 1798, with whom he had nine children (five of whom became civil engineers). Wright is buried in the New York Marble Cemetery, Manhattan.
List of civil engineers
* Richard G. Weingardt, "Engineering Legends: Great American Civil Engineers: 32 Profiles Of Inspiration And Achievement", pp. 4-6, ASCE Publications, 2005. ISBN 0784408017.
* Robert J. Kapsch, "American Canals as a Source of Revitalization", in "The millennium link: the rehabilitation of the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals", ed. G. Fleming, pp. 48-51, Thomas Telford, 2000. ISBN 0727729454.
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