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25. March 2011

Of vision and genius - The forgotten alternative design by Johann Wilhelm Schwedler for the first Rhine Bridge at Cologne, Germany

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Alexander Kierdorf

The competition on the first Rhine crossing was won, with a suspension bridge construction, based on his brother's preparatory designs and closely following the rules, by young engineer Johann Wilhelm Schwedler from Berlin.

But it soon became clear that the bridge, including an opening section, could not cope with the constantly rising demands of railway traffic, and Schwedler created an alternative design, consisting of lenticular trusses with a suspended track. This design, hidden for al long time and published only once in 1900, is closely linked with Schwedler's groundbreaking, but also first neglected publication on the “Theory of Bridge Truss Systems” in 1851. Some years later, a lattice truss bridge was built at Cologne, following the Weichsel bridge at Dirschau (1850-55). Decades later when Schwedler got the chance to build another large size bridge right there, he returned to the Cologne design of 1850. Structurally modernized, he made it a document to progress in bridge building and a manifesto for an Art of Engineering based on science and theory, the success of which was not to a small extent the work of Schwedler.