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Liscom Family Correspondence

Identifier: SC MS 0171

Scope and Contents

The collection contains an assortment of 129 pieces of ephemera including 28 letters with 21 envelopes, ten business cards of bridge building companies, five postcards of New England bridges and a locomotive, eleven photographs (seven cyanotype, four black & white/sepia), two sketches bridges, four personal notes/lists, 20 bridge toll coupons, three bridge building contracts, four booklets and one bridge blueprint.


  • Creation: 1836 to 1905


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Biographical / Historical

This collection presents an instructive sequence of the development of American iron and steel bridge building. This was a pioneering time when the industry was venturing away from wood in to a new field with new materials (iron and steel), new machinery and methods of manufacture and erection. Engineers were called upon to design as well as construct bridges and develop the theory and practice of structural engineering. Bridge specifications were only adopted in 1871. Until 1876 bridge design and construction almost exclusively were controlled by companies that fabricated one particular style of bridge, for example the National Bridge and Iron Company of Boston’s adoption of the Parker truss. Many wooden truss bridge designs were adapted for use with iron. Iron bridges were mainly built between 1840 -1880 ultimately the designs were replaced by steel. The number of bridge fabricating companies exploded during the second half of the 19th century doubling every decade. In 1850 there were only 15 workshops and by 1900 more than 190 bridge fabricators were operating in the United States due to the expansion of the railroads following the Civil War. The U.S. bridge fabricating shops had skilled mechanics that assembled the bridge parts st the fabricating shop to ensure proper size before shipment for erection by bridge builders at the site. The parts were marked so that the men in the field could quickly reassemble the parts into a bridge on site. The technique of prefabricating and preassembling all the parts to guarantee an exact fit and then securing the members with pins (Lehigh’s Archives has an example of one such pin from the Brooklyn Bridge in its collection) became known as the “American plan.” It appears from the Liscom Family collection of ephemera that some of the Liscom family especially L. F. Liscom worked in the field as a bridge builder or in the bridge fabricating shop planning bridges. One family member was an inventor (Levi Liscom Patent No. 76,212, 1868 for a bridge of corbelled timber beams extending to mid-span support and stiffened by a truss). From the collection of business correspondence and business cards, it is evident that the Liscom family worked for a range of bridge companies. Among them was the Solid Lever Bridge Company with C. H. Parker as engineer (designed the Parker Truss). Its successor, the National Bridge and Iron Works, collapsed in 1876. Its engineer, D(avid) H. Andrews (1844-1921), bought their equipment and materials and began the Boston Bridge Works. The Boston Bridge Works manufactured iron work for subways and bridges for railroads. It was the largest bridge shop manufacturing iron bridge members in Boston from 1894 to 1903 employing 175 men. For twenty years Boston Bridge Works with Andrews as owner and designer built most of the railway and highway bridges of New England and other parts of the country along with the first steel building in Boston. The Liscom correspondence indicates that L. F(rank) Liscom was one of the 175 men employed by the Works and possibly one of the Andrews design engineers. Other companies where L. F. Liscom possibly was affiliated - the Eastern Bridge and Structural Company and the United Construction Company, so he probably was one of many itinerant entrepreneurs busy in the 19th century bridge building trade. Engineers at that time were called upon to design as well as construct and develop the theory and practice of structural engineering.


1 boxes ; .25 linear feet

Language of Materials



This collection is a single family’s involvement in the development of bridge building in 19th century America. The perspective is of a family of New England itinerant entrepreneur bridge builders. The types of bridges noted are specifically the truss and cantilever styles, illustrated with blueprints, drawings and photographs. The correspondence is between family members working for several bridge fabricating companies. The range of time primarily from the mid 1850s to 1905 shows the development of the art of bridge construction from its infancy utilizing wood to the triumphs of American engineering in iron and steel.


The collection is organized chronologically from the earliest year noted 1836 in a letter from a John Liscom to Lemuel Liscom. The last year noted is presumed to be 1905 postcards of bridges attributed to L. F. Liscom, consulting engineer.

Related Materials

Abstracts and Chronology of American Truss Bridge Patents, 1817-1900, by David Guise, Society for Industrial Archeology, Occasional Electronic Publication No. 1, 2009.

Description of Bridges Built by the National Bridge and Iron Works, Blodgett and Curry, proprietors; Boston, Press of H. S. Cox, 1869, 18p.

Directory of American Bridge-Building Companies 1840-1900, by Victor C. Darnell, Society for Industrial Archeology, Occasional Electronic Publication No. 4, 1984.

History of Bridge Engineering, by H. G. Tyrrell, Chicago: The G.B. Williams Co., 1911.

The Golden Age of the Iron Bridge, by Eric Delony, in Invention and Technology, v. 10, issue 2, Fall 1994.

Special Collections Staff -- Andrew Donnachie
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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)