of some of the best known bridges in New York
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
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
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