1840 – 1912
Alfred Pancoast Boller was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 23, 1840 to Henry J. and Anna Margaretta Boller. His early schooling was at the Episcopal Academy of Philadelphia; he earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 1858 and a civil engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1861.
Boller began his engineering career as a rodman and instrumentman with the Nisquehoning Railroad. Then, as a topographer, he completed a detailed survey and map of the middle and southern anthracite coal fields in Pennsylvania for the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. By 1863 Boller had joined the Bridges and Buildings Department of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad, which set him on a long and distinguished career in structural engineering. During 1866 Boller served as Chief Bridge Engineer for the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad and as Chief Engineer of Hudson River Railroad. In the fall of 1866 he left railroading to partner with Samuel Millikin with the Phoenix Iron Company. For four years he was either an engineer or contractor for a number of important projects including Bridgeport Bridge, Connecticut, and Piers 38 and 39 on North River and St. John's Park Station in New York City.
In 1871 Boller became Vice President of Engineering for Phillipsburg Manufacturing Company, specializing in the design and construction of bridges and other structures. One of the notable projects he completed was the Park Avenue Bridge over Morris Canal in Newark, New Jersey. The company failed in the financial panic of 1873, and Boller returned again to railroading as Chief Engineer for the Manhattan Elevated Railroad, the Yonkers Rapid Transit Commission and the West Side and Yonkers Railroad. In 1874 he made yet another change and opened his own consulting office in New York City, an enterprise that he managed until his death in 1912. In 1898 Boller's firm admitted Henry M. Hodge as a partner and then Howard C. Baird as a third partner in 1912.
The firm, known as Boller, Hodge and Baird after 1912, served as consulting engineer to many important clients including the Lake Superior Company at St. Sault Marie, the United States Government, the State of New York, the New York City Parks and Public Works departments and the National Railways of Mexico. The firm designed numerous minor railroad and highway bridges throughout the United States and conducted international work in Central and South America, the Caribbean and the Philippines. Some of the more notable structures and projects with which Boller was involved were the foundations for the Statue of Liberty ; steel framing for the Singer and Metropolitan Life buildings in New York; the Staten Island and New York Railroad; Providence and Boston Railroad; the Thames River Swing Bridge, Connecticut; the Macombs Dam Bridge and Arthur Kill Bridge (now replaced), New York; the St. Louis River Bridge, Duluth Minnesota; and the MacArthur (formerly Central) Bridge, St. Louis Missouri. [Macombs Dam Bridge - Photograph courtesy of Bridgepix.com] Many of Boller's creations were bold and original. The 503-foot draw span of the Thames River Bridge was at the time the longest built. Also remarkable was the Macombs Dam Bridge over the Harlem River, which was 4500 feet long with a draw span weighing 2400 tons and claimed to be the heaviest moving mass in the world at the time. The MacArthur Bridge at St. Louis, with 670 foot spans, was the longest fixed truss span in the world when designed.
Boller was known for being careful, deliberate and practical, and he had a keen sense of the artistic importance of his work. He was a watercolor painter and appreciated fine architecture. His Macombs Dam swing bridge in New York City and Morgan G. Bulkeley (formerly Hartford) masonry arch bridge in Connecticut are fine examples of his artistic awareness. He contributed greatly to the advancement of the profession, serving as first and second President of the American Institute of Consulting Engineers and as Secretary, Vice-President and Director of the American Society of Engineers. He also belonged to the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was particularly active in helping and encouraging younger engineers, and in 1876 he wrote the well-known Practical Treatise on the Construction of Iron Highway Bridges.
Boller married early in his career, in 1864, to Katherine Newbold. They raised three sons and two daughters. His home for fifty years was a suburb of New York City where he was very active in community affairs. He took a keen interest in the development of public works and was the first president of the Shade Tree Commission of the State of New York. Alfred Boller died in 1912. He was regarded as one of the world's foremost structural engineers and bridge engineering experts and an outstanding citizen who contributed enormously to the dignity and honor of the profession.
Resources: Transactions of ASCE, Vol. 85, p. 1653 Biographical Dictionary of American Civil Engineers, Vol.1, page 10.