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Fritz Engineering Laboratory “Project 237” Documents

Identifier: SC MS 0143

Scope and Contents

This collection contains photographs and newspaper articles describing some of the newsworthy research done in Fritz Engineering Laboratory. Most of the 253 photographs of research projects were made by Richard N. Sopko, Fritz Lab photographer c. 1962 to early 1990s and are of assorted sizes but mainly in black and white. Earlier photographs were made by assorted staff and faculty many pictured in the collection and depict camaraderie among the staff and faculty in the new research facility. The original newspaper articles were photocopied onto acid free paper and these images are now in the collection.


  • Creation: 1952-2007


Language of Materials


Biographical / Historical

The original Fritz Engineering Laboratory was funded, designed and built by John Fritz beginning in 1909 and dedicated in 1910. The original laboratory was designed as a one-quarter scale building of a building also designed by John Fritz, known as the Number 2 Machine Shop, for the Bethlehem Iron Works (predecessor to the Bethlehem Steel Company/Corporation). The steel frame of the building was erected in 1909 as a plaque on a steel beam in the south wall of the test bay indicates as well as the lintel above the bay door. Mr. Fritz also provided the largest test machine, an 800,000 lb Riehle test machine, in the world at the time for his laboratory. This machine tested some of the structural plates manufactured by McClintic-Marshall (1888 civil engineering alumni) for the Panama Canal as well as the cable anchorages designed by Bethlehem Steel Company for the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge (it was the bridge design not the cable anchorages that caused this bridge to fail so spectacularly).

By the mid 1930s a need to expand was indicated and Professor Hale Sutherland, head of the civil engineering department, made an attempt to build an addition but the economic situation at the time thwarted the attempt. A graduate degree program in civil engineering had been introduced in 1927/28 and research work expanded greatly.

By 1951 another attempt was made to expand by Professor William J. Eney. With the help of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Professor Eney succeeded in having built a seven story steel frame addition. The building’s cornerstone was laid in June, 1954 and by October, 1955 the addition, known as “the new” Fritz Laboratory, was dedicated. Professor Eney following in John Fritz’s footsteps also had installed in the addition the largest test machine in the world, a 5,000,000 lb. Baldwin Universal Testing Machine which got its claim as largest because of an addition made to its height to accommodate very long structural members. This laboratory addition and testing machine made Lehigh’s civil engineering department and the Fritz Engineering Laboratory world famous. Many visitors from around the world came to participate in unique, innovative research testing noteworthy enough to appear in newspapers and articles in many professional journals. “Project 237” was designated as a file to record the many different aspects of this “new” addition and the research performed in it as well as material relating to the original building.


0.5 Linear Feet (1 box)


“Project 237” was created by the Lehigh University Department of Civil Engineering for the purpose of recording Fritz Engineering Laboratory research history. During the decades, especially from the earliest days of the first decade (1910) of operation to the mid 1980s, Fritz Engineering Laboratory was a center of important civil engineering research doing research that would be included in the nation’s building specifications such as AASHTO, ACI, ASTM, AWS. The Lab was known worldwide for some very innovation research projects as well as commercial testing. The innovative research included testing of the steel plates that were used to build the Panama Canal locks, the cable anchorages for the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the suspension cable for the Golden Gate Bridge, George Washington Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, the joists for the World Trade Center, “Telstar” – the United States’ first telecommunication satellite, the pioneering prestressed concrete beams designed for use in the rapid construction of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, aluminum bridge systems, early attempts at composite design of highway slabs, dredge pumps, compacted urban refuse bales for use in consolidating landfills and plastic design of multistory frames. The Fritz Engineering Laboratory as a named structural research entity was replaced by the ATLSS (Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems) testing facility for structural engineering research in 1986 with Lehigh University’s acquisition of Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s Homer Research Laboratories adapted for civil engineering departmental use.


The original collection was filed in three black three-ring binders with items glued on to paper sheets in an order of most recent date in front and earliest date in back of binder. One binder contained primarily ephemera and two binders specifically photographs identified as 237 – xxx and later a photo file number devised by Richard N. Sopko listing the month and year the photo was made. These binders were discarded and the contents divided into numerous archival folders designated 143.01.01 (Binder One), 143.01.02 (Binder Two), 143.01.03 (Binder Three).

Fritz Engineering Laboratory “Project 237” Documents SC MS 0143
Eleanor Nothelfer
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Repository Details

Part of the Lehigh University Special Collections Repository

Lehigh University
Linderman Library
30 Library Drive
Bethlehem PA 18045 USA
610-758-6091 (Fax)