Courtesy BTHL

This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization

Civilizations have constructed bridges for centuries, initially assembling rock, rope, and wood structures to traverse water and difficult terrain. However, the 1800s saw a significant shift in bridge technology with the boom of the iron and steel industries. While wood and concrete bridges were still popular at this time, many manufacturers and designers opted for metal elements due to their high tensile strength and durability.

Below, the BTHL chronicles the evolution of bridge design and options available in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Descriptive Catalogue of Wrought-Iron Bridges, Keystone Bridge Co., Pittsburgh, 1874
This illustrated catalog features iron bridges installed primarily for railroad use as well as a list of wooden bridges the company had completed. It also offers construction details and descriptions of specific components.

Iron Highway Bridges: As Built by the Penn Bridge Co., Beaver Falls, Pa., 1886
Featuring examples of completed metal truss highway bridges, this catalog highlights “double intersection, whipple, or linville” construction options.

The Berlin Iron Bridge Co., East Berlin, Conn., 1980
The Berlin Iron Bridge Co. claimed responsibility for more than 90 percent of bridges in the Northeast in the 1880s. They used a patented parabolic truss that “commends itself for its stiffness and simplicity.”

Bridges, Structural Steel Work, and Mechanical Engineering Productions, Sir William Arrol and Co., Glasgow, Scotland, 1909
At 528 pages long, this extensive volume includes a history of the company, work samples, and specification details. The company built largely in Great Britain.

Small Concrete Bridges and Culverts, Universal Portland Cement Co., Chicago, 1914
This publication features images of completed concrete bridges and culverts, which, according to the company, increased in popularity after the Great Flood of 1913. In light of the damage caused by the flooding, this catalog emphasized the need for “competent engineering on larger structures.”

Highway Trestles, Bridges, and Culverts, Southern Pine Association, New Orleans, 1918
At a time when steel and iron were increasing in popularity for infrastructure projects, the Southern Pine Association reminds readers that “wood has been one of the standard materials used in bridge construction for centuries.” The catalog points to wood’s comparative low cost, general availability, and stability in changing temperatures as key advantages for utilizing the material.

The Strauss Bascule Bridge Co., Chicago, 1920
Strauss built many bascule bridges—pivoting lift bridges—around Chicago. The company highlights its trunnion technology that facilitates movement as the “keystone of…efficiency.”

Sciotoville Bridge, McClintic-Marshall Construction Co., Pittsburgh, c. 1920
This publication is a photographic case study of the construction stages of a large railroad bridge construction on the Ohio River.

Suspension Bridges: A Century of Progress, John A. Roebling's Sons Co., Trenton, N.J, 1934
Designed by John Roebling in the 1880s, the Brooklyn Bridge has become one of the most famous bridges in the world. This catalog highlights this and other notable suspension bridges from around the country.

Concrete for Everlasting Bridges and Culverts, Alpha Portland Cement Co., Easton, Pa., c. 1936
This cement manufacturer emphasized the benefits of its product, claiming, “the life of a concrete bridge seems to be unlimited.”

USF Structural-Plate Bridge Flooring, United Steel Fabricators, Wooster, Ohio, 1959
This catalog features a structural-plate bridge flooring that could be installed on new bridges or used to renovate existing structures. According to the company, the flooring helps to stiffen weak structures and helps lighten dead load.