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         BOOK REVIEW                      by Barbara Spencer

                 Washington Roebling’s Father, A Memoir of John A. Roebling Edited by Donald Sayenga

           In the 1980s Donald Sayenga, former                                 according to Washington, his temper of-
         general manager of Bethlehem Wire Rope                                ten flared, and his family feared him.
         and a recognized historian of the Roebling                              “There was something of the tiger in
         family, made a surprising discovery.                                  him—the sight of blood following  the
           Albert King, the Rutgers archivist,                                 strokes of the raw hide, brought on fits
         showed him a list of two large archival                               of ungovernable fury,” he writes, “—To
         collections of Roebling memorabilia at                                fell my mother with a blow of the fist
         Rensselaer  Polytechnic  Institute and                                was nothing uncommon.”
         Rutgers University. There Sayenga                                       In  2009,  just  three  years  after  John
         found a hand-written manuscript by                                    Roebling’s 200th birthday, the Ameri-
         Washington Roebling entitled “Biogra-                                 can Society of Civil Engineers published
         phy of J. A. Roebling.” It details Wash-                              the memoirs. In the book, Sayenga helps
         ington’s memories of the work of his                                  the reader navigate Washington’s writ-
         father John,  founder of the wire  rope                               ings by dividing it into 13 chapters. He
         industry in the United States.                                        includes an introduction for each, as well
           The manuscript had for decades                                      as helpful notes in the margins and in-
         eluded  researchers,  among them  Say-                                teresting photos. Washington’s writings
         enga’s  friend  David McCullough  who                                 about his experience during the Civil
         wrote the well-known book, The Great  He succeeded, and there, in Saxonburg,   War have been omitted. (Erica Wagner
         Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building  Pennsylvania, he invented a new meth-  includes more of those memories in her
         of the Brooklyn Bridge.            od  for  making  wire  rope.  At  first  em-  recently published book, Chief Engineer
           Washington began compiling his  ploying area residents, he made rope by   Washington  Roebling,  The  Man  Who
         hand-written  memories  in  1893 and  hand in the meadow of his farm.   Built the Brooklyn Bridge.) Two appen-
         1894, at the age of 56. Then he put the   As the business grew, he moved his   dices are included as well, one a sketch
         manuscript aside for 13 years. In 1907  family and business to Trenton. There   of John’s career written by Washington
         he added more thoughts, likely spurred  he built a mechanical ropewalk so com-  Roebling and published in Engineering
         by  the  knowledge  that Trenton,  New  plex that, according to Washington,   (1867c), and the other a list and descrip-
         Jersey was planning to erect a statue of  few could understand how it worked.   tion of The Bridges of John A. Roebling.
         John Roebling in its Cadwalader Park   In the caption below an illustration   While Washington’s manuscript was
         to commemorate the 60th anniversary  of the Roebling ropewalk is a quote   originally  entitled,  “Biography  of  J.
         of the city’s Roebling factory.    from a newspaperman after it was in-  A. Roebling,” Sayenga explains in the
           He could have written a terse chro-  stalled in 1849. “A steam-engine of ten   book’s introduction that he changed the
         nology of his father’s life, a testament  or twelve horsepower drives all the ma-  title of the memoir because “I decided
         to John’s success  as an inventor  and  chinery. We could not give our readers   that it had to bear a title more prop-
         businessman. Or he might have opted  an intelligent description of the latter   erly emphasizing the role of Washing-
         to describe an intimate story of family  if we should try.”           ton A. Roebling…If my reasoning was
         life in the Roebling household. Instead,   But Washington shares personal   correct that Washington had intended
         Washington entwines both.          struggles between him and John as well.   it as his pathway to emerge once and
           Washington speaks of his father’s  He tells the story of a difficult childhood,   forever from his father’s shadow, to me
         journey from Germany in 1831 with the  with a father who was away on business   it seemed inappropriate simply to rel-
         vision  of  starting  his  own  community.  for months at a time. When he was home,   egate his name to author status.”

         70     Wire Rope News & Sling Technology   October 2017
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