1827 – 1897
Albert Fink was born in Lauterbach, Germany on October 27, 1827 the son of an architect. His father died young, and Albert decided to go to the Polytechnic at Darmstadt to study architecture and civil engineering. He graduated in 1848 during tumultuous times with revolutions throughout Europe and Germany. In August 1848 he wrote of his decision to go to America, "in America a man may rise to the highest positions on his own merits. Surely, this is the true freedom I long for." He arrived in New York May 2, 1849. He went to Baltimore and requested an interview with Wendell Bollman, the Master of the Road for the Baltimore & Ohio (B & O) railroad. While waiting for the interview, Fink designed and made a model of an iron bridge that could be built on the B & O. He noted in his diary "Bollman has come to my room several times, staying for hours, to study my drawings, and always he would say when I would ask him for a place 'Come to my office.'" Bollman never made an offer, and Fink went to work with a cabinetmaker.
It wasn't until December 21,1849 that Benjamin Latrobe, Chief Engineer of the B & O offered him a position as a draftsman. One of his first efforts was completing his design for an iron bridge for the B & O. Hungerford, in his history of the B & O wrote, describing Fink's design method, "the rule of thumb methods that were used in the creation of so many early iron and wooden bridges were hardly to be trusted in the making of an all iron one. So Fink would go to work with pieces of tin and wires, building up trusses in miniature, testing strains and stresses carefully upon these, and from such experiments making his deduction and formulas for the construction of full sized spans." Based upon this work Latrobe gave Fink the project of building a three span bridge across the Monongahela at Fairmount, Virginia in 1852. The bridge, with its three 205 ft spans, was the longest span railroad bridge in the United States when completed and served as the prototype for most long span bridges built on the B & O.
For the next five years, Fink held various positions with the B & O and built the Fox Run and Trey Viaducts, both major cast iron structures. On May 9, 1854 he received patent No. 10,887 for a truss bridge. He left the B & O in 1857 to work on the Louisville and Nashville (L & N) Railroad. One of his first efforts was construction of the Green River Bridge near Mammoth, Kentucky. He received a second patent on April 9, 1867, No. 63,714 for a combination truss with wooden compression members and wrought iron tension members. He used it on many bridges for the L & N including the Blue River Bridge with a span of 126 ft 10.5 in. His first major bridge after the Civil War was the Louisville Bridge over the Ohio River that opened in 1870. It was the longest (5,250 ft) bridge in the world at the time. It consisted of 25 conventional Fink deck trusses with spans ranging from 50 ft to 245 ft 5 in and two major long span trusses of 370 ft and 400 ft. In the design of these trusses Fink, once again, exhibited his innovative design power. The long span trusses were the first subdivided panel trusses in the United States. [Louisville Bridge 1870 over the Ohio River] He finished his career between 1877 and 1888 with positions as Chairman of the Southern Railway and Steamship Association, and Chairman of the Trunk Line Association an organization formed by the Pennsylvania Railroad, Erie, New York Central and Hudson River Railroads to divide traffic to the west. In these positions, Fink demonstrated his financial understanding of the railroading business and developed methods for determining costs and the fixing of rates. When the Interstate Commerce Act was passed in 1887 his position and work was nullified, and he retired in 1888.
Between 1877 and 1880 he served as Vice President and President of the ASCE. Only two of his bridges survive. The first was constructed around 1870 as a railroad bridge and converted to vehicular use in 1893. The truss elements were moved to a park in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1985, where it is now used as a footbridge. It was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1985. The other survivor is a 108 ft span through truss originally built by Smith & Latrobe Company in 1869 as one of three spans to cross the Tuscarawas River at Zoarville, Ohio. It was replaced with a new bridge in 1905 and moved to the present location where it was abandoned in place in 1940. In 2007, it was removed to be restored and rebuilt at a new site.
Fink died April 3, 1897 in Ossining, NY. His ASCE memoir states, "to be able to do good, to relieve suffering, was his principal happiness. He was a most remarkable man, a true gentleman and one who had reached the highest type of humanity."