Department of

Civil and Environmental Engineering



Kavanagh Lecture - Abstract

April 4, 2013

The Ups and Downs of Suspension Bridges
and the Highs and Lows of Their Builders


Harry H. West
Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering
The Pennsylvania State University


Suspension bridges have fascinated all of humankind as engineers have continued their quest to reach out and span distances never before conquered. In this quest, engineering principles were employed that, at the time, were not fully tested or completely understood. As a result, the suspension bridge story is a collection of incredible accomplishments as well as catastrophic disappointments -- accompanied by highly-acclaimed individual successes and devastating personal failures. Dr. West will trace the developmental history of suspension bridges, identifying the major players and their struggles to gain approval for their plans. He will also examine the prevailing theories used in suspension bridge structural analysis and provide observations of the resulting trends in design. In addition, Dr. West will present a full accounting of the chronology of the longest suspension bridges in the world, from the early nineteenth century to current times, and the plans for new and longer spans.