John Augustus Roebling House


John Augustus Roebling House and Workshop
Saxonburg, Pennsylvania

German immigrant John Augustus Roebling founded the town of Saxonburg, located 35 miles north of Pittsburgh, in 1832. Roebling was born in Muhlhausen, Thuringia, Prussia-- now Germany. He was educated at the Royal Polytechnic School at Berlin in architecture engineering, bridge construction and hydraulics. In 1831he led a party of immigrants here from Germany to settle on 1600 acres of Depreciation Lands he had purchased in southern Butler County. Over the next few years, he promoted the new village to his friends back in Germany, encouraging them to come to Saxonburg while enthusiastically describing the personal freedom and opportunities they would find in this new land.

This was the first house built in Saxonburg by John and his brother Karl in 1832 and it still stands on Main Street. Its interesting construction has been preserved and today visitors can observe the construction techniques common in 1832 at an exposed area of wall just inside the hallway. Currently the Roebling house is the business office of the Saxonburg Memorial Presbyterian Church.

After Saxonburg was laid-out into lots, Roebling returned to his engineering vocation and many dams, locks, and bridges on the Pennsylvania Canal were designed and built by him. Roebling recognized the need for a stronger and smaller cable than the large hemp ropes that were used to pull the canal boats up and over the Portage Railroad so he invented a strong wire cable in his Saxonburg workshop. This workshop still stands in Roebling Park in Saxonburg. Roebling's new wire cable had its first trial on the ferryboat crossing the Allegheny River at Sharpsburg. The next application was on the inclined planes of the Portage Railroad, where it was also successful. John then used the strong cables in his design of suspension bridges. The first bridge was an aqueduct to carry the Canal across the Allegheny River into Pittsburgh (at approximately 16th Street).

During the Pittsburgh fire of 1845, the wooden covered bridge across the Monongahela River at Smithfield Street was destroyed. Roebling won the contract to replace the bridge with one of his new suspension bridges. He also designed and built a suspension bridge across the Allegheny River at about 6th Street. In 1855, he completed a railroad suspension bridge over the Niagara River at Niagara Falls.

By far his most acclaimed engineering accomplishment was the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, which he designed with son Washington. At 1,595 feet, it was the largest bridge span of his lifetime. Roebling died in 1869 from an accident he sustained while supervising the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, leaving Washington to manage its completion in 1883.