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Prominent Poles

Ralph Modjeski (Rudolf Modrzejewski) Polish-American civil engineer, bridge builder

Photo of Ralph Modjeski, civil engineer

Born:  January 27,1861, Bochnia, Austrian partition of Poland (presently Poland)

Died: 1940, Los Angeles, California, USA

Early days. His father was Gustaw Zimajer who assumed the name Modrzejewski, his mother was a famous actress Helena Bejda known as Helena Modrzejewska (later known as Helena Modjeska). Modjeski’s early European education included musical studies under Kazimierz Hoffman, son of renowned Jozef Hoffman. During his student days, Modjeski was also an associate of the illustrious pianist, composer, and Polish patriot, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who later became the prime minister of Poland.
Higher education.Rather than follow a musical path, Modjeski decided on a career in engineering and graduated from the Ecole des Ponts et Chausses (School of Bridges and Roads, the name of Paris Polytechnic) in Paris in 1885 with a degree in civil engineering.
Moves to the USA.Founds a firm.Modjeski became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1887 and began his engineering career in Chicago. In 1893, he founded a firm now called Modjeski and Masters, headquartered in Harrisburg , Pennsylvania. Among his best-known projects are the Government Bridge spanning the Mississippi River at Rock Island, the McKinley Bridge at St. Louis, Thebes, Illinois, and Memphis, Tennessee. He built bridges over Oregon’s Columbia and Willamette Rivers, and the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Modjeski was a member of the Quebec Bridge Commission, and was consulting engineer for the Ohio River Bridge at Metropolis, Illinois and the Thames River Bridge at New Haven, Connecticut. Modjeski developed a set of standard bridge designs for the Northern Pacific Railroad that was used for many years.
Benjamin Franklin bridge.He was chosen chief engineer and chairman of the board of engineers of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River, which, upon its completion in 1926, was the longest suspension bridge in the world. He was also appointed chief engineer of the Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi in New Orleans and served as chairman of the board of consulting engineers for the Trans-Bay Bridge in San Francisco, completed in 1936. Modjeski saw his professional work recognized throughout the engineering world through honorary degrees, medals, and prizes. He died in 1940 in Los Angeles. For more information about Modjeski, see ‘Engineers of Dreams’ by Henry Petroski.

This short biography is based on the article by Jan S. Plachta, P. E. that appeared in Engineers on Stamps, January 2000 copied with the permission given by Michael J. Vinarcik, P. E. See:
Engineers on Stamps.

Other sources:
Mirecka Ploss
Polacy Swiatu (Polish)
Photos of Modjeski's bridges
See some of the Modjeski's bridges:
Modjeski and Masters

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Prominent Poles