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Othmar Ammann

designer of some of the best known bridges in New York City

Othmar Ammann

Othmar Ammann was born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, on March 26, 1879. He earned his engineering degree from Polytechnikum in Zürich, where he studied with Wilhelm Ritter, in 1902, and emigrated to New York City in 1904, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1924. How Ammann spent his first years in the United States is unknown.

Ammann first gained recognition in the field of bridge design engineering when he wrote reports on the collapses of the Quebec Bridge and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The former report, released in 1907, earned him a position as Assistant Chief Engineer under Gustav Lindenthal, who in 1912 was hired to design and build a railroad bridge over the Hell Gate stretch of the East River. Much of the design work for the Hell Gate Bridge, which opened in 1917, was done by Ammann. Ammann also contributed to the design of the Sciotoville Railroad Bridge, spanning the Ohio River between Louisville, Kentucky, and Sciotoville, Ohio, which was completed in 1916.

In 1921, Ammann's design for a bridge over the Hudson River was accepted by the New York Port Authority, over one submitted by Lindenthal. Subsequently hired to build what is now known as the George Washington Bridge, Ammann completed the project six months ahead of schedule and under budget; the bridge officially opened on October 25, 1931.

Amman was employed as Chief Engineer of the New York Port Authority from 1930 to 1937, and as Director of Engineering from 1937 to 1939. During these periods, he oversaw construction of the Bayonne Bridge and the Hudson Tunnel. In 1934, he also became Chief Engineer for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, in which capacity he designed and oversaw construction of the Triborough, Bronx-Whitestone, and Throgs Neck bridges. In addition to all of these projects, Ammann also sat on the Board of Engineers in charge of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, which opened in 1937.

In 1939, Amman left his civil service career to begin a career as an independent engineering consultant. In 1946, he teamed with Charles Whitney to form Ammann and Whitney, which subsequently designed and/or collaborated on a number of other well-known American bridges, including the Verrazano-Narrows, the Delaware Memorial, and the Walt Whitman. All but one of Ammann's bridges were suspension bridges, the exception being the Bayonne Bridge.

In 1964, Amman was awarded the National Medal of Science from President Lyndon Johnson, the first time the medal was given to a civil engineer. He died in Rye, New York, on September 22, 1965.

Ammann was married twice. In 1905, he returned to Switzerland just long enough to marry Lilly Selma Wehrli, with whom he had three children. Lilly Ammann died in 1933. In 1935, he married Karly Vogt Noetzli; no children were born to this union.

George Washington Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
Walt Whitman Bridge
President Lyndon Johnson

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This page was last updated on September 21, 2017.