1825 – 1906
Linville was born in Pequea, Pennsylvania on September 23, 1825. No known photograph of him exists. After attending local schools he enrolled in Union College in Schenectady, New York receiving a BA degree in 1848. After teaching and studying law in Pennsylvania for a short time, he changed his career goal and became a surveyor, under William H. Wilson, in the summer of 1852.
Between June 1854 and 1857, he worked on the Philadelphia, Media & Westchester railroad. In August 1857 he joined Wilson as Assistant Resident Engineer on the middle division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In this position he began his bridge building career even though he "was ignorant of bridge construction, and the requisite computations..." His first major truss was over the Schuylkill River at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Arsenal Bridge was built in 1861 and consisted of two fixed 192 feet cast and wrought iron spans flanking a 192 foot center iron swing span.
In early 1862 he received the first patent, No. 34,183, for a double intersection truss with cast iron upper chords, wrought iron bars for diagonals and wrought iron links for his lower chords. [Steubenville Bridge] He founded the Keystone Bridge Company with Andrew Carnegie during the Civil War. His next major bridge effort was at Steubenville, Ohio over the Ohio River. He agreed to prepare a design but only if J. Edgar Thomson, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, allowed him to build a large testing machine that would make it possible for him to test full size members. He wrote "owing to unavoidable delays in the preparation of this machine it was possible to test only a few of the posts, chords, bars, etc. but the results demonstrated conclusively the accuracy of the data from which the proportions of the tubes had been determined." It consisted of four 235 feet deck spans, followed by a main channel span of 320 feet and then three deck spans of 210 feet. Theodore Copper, in his paper on American Railroad Bridges, wrote "The era of long span truss bridges in America may be considered as dating from the building of the first bridge over the Ohio River at Steubenville...by Mr. J. H. Linville."
In 1867-68, he designed and built a bridge for the Dubuque and Dunleith Bridge Company over the Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa. One of the largest contracts Linville and the Keystone Bridge Company obtained was for two bridges for the Baltimore and Ohio railroad to cross the Ohio River. The first bridge was between Benwood, West Virginia and Bellaire, Ohio four miles south of Wheeling and the second was downstream connecting Parkersburg, West Virginia with Belpre, Ohio. The four main channel spans of the Benwood Bridge were 347.9 feet, 207 feet, 235 feet and 242 feet. All trusses were deck trusses with the exception of the two main channel spans that were through trusses. Construction began May 2, 1868 and the bridge opened June 1, 1871. The Parkersburg Bridge had six channel spans. Four were deck spans varying between 209 feet and 315 feet while the two main river spans were through trusses with lengths of 348 feet 9 inches and 347 feet 9 inches. The Parkersburg approach consisted of 22 Bollman Trusses with spans varying from 50 feet to 100 feet. The Belpre approach consisted of six Bollman Trusses varying in length from 121 feet to 124 feet. Construction started July 9, 1869, and the bridge opened January 7, 1871. The total cost for the two bridges was exceptionally high for the time being over $2,237,000. [Cincinnati Southern Railroad Bridge] The Newport and Cincinnati Bridge, his next record setting bridge, consisted of four spans, all through trusses, the main span at 420 feet, two at 220 feet and a fourth of unknown length. The bridge utilized many Steubenville details, except there were no cast iron parts. It opened April 1, 1872. The Cincinnati Southern Railroad Bridge over the Ohio river was his next major structure. The length of span was prescribed in the specifications for the bridge which set the span lengths at 525 feet for the main span, two spans of 300 feet, four spans at 110 feet and a swing span of 370 feet. Clearance above the river was 100 feet.
In addition to these major spans, Keystone and Linville designed and built hundreds of shorter span bridges during this period. Linville was one of the most prolific bridge builders from 1860 to 1880 when railroads began to cross major rivers of the country. He built several long span bridges over the Schuylkill, Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers. He set the record for railroad truss bridge spans on three occasions starting at 320 feet going to 420 feet and in 1877 building a span of 520 feet. He was by all measure one of the giants of 19th century bridge building. His memorialist noted: "personally, his disposition was singularly loving and sympathetic, and all with whom he came in contact were greatly attracted to him." He died August 4, 1906, a month short of his 81st birthday, and is buried in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his home for over 30 years.