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Robert Blum Olney Bridge Design Class Notebook

Identifier: SC MS 0226

Scope and Content Note

The manuscript deals with three exercises in bridge design reflected by the Bridge Design curricula for the first and second semesters of the Senior civil engineering class courses. The first term of the class course Bridges deals with the design of plate girder and riveted bridges; the second term deals with the design of pin-connected bridges and working drawings. The hand calculations are included as well as the assignment requirements apparently put forth by Professor Merriman. All aspects are written in ink in the bound booklet and presented to the civil engineering department at the end of the Senior year. Each assignment is stamped with the department stamp at the end of the written exercise as being accepted as complete as of May 1892.


  • Creation: 1891 - 1892


Language of Materials

The entries are written in English.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Collection housed remotely. Users need to contact 24 hours in advance.

Biographical Note

Robert Blum Olney was born September 20, 1870 at Charleston, South Carolina and died at San Antonia, Texas March 4, 1903. He was the son of Clarence Crosby and Louisa Blum Olney. His father was the Charleston, S.C. agent for the Northeastern Railroad. From January to August 1888 Robert Olney was employed in the office of the Chief Engineer for the Savannah, Florida and Western Railroad. In 1888, he entered Lehigh University’s civil engineering department and graduated June 1892. Professor Mansfield Merriman was his instructor and advisor and stated that Olney was always reliable and trustworthy. His thesis was titled “Plans and Specifications for a Locomotive Round House.” Professor Merriman considered the subject well treated throughout. After graduation Olney was hired by the Norfolk and Western Railroad. Later he was employed by the City of Charleston, South Carolina as City Engineer. He began employment with the American Pipe Manufacturing Company in 1901 working on a sewerage disposal plant for Burlington, New Jersey. Upon completion of that job he returns to Charleston but on account of failing health he left for the Southwest in 1903. He stopped in San Antonio, Texas where he died of tuberculosis apparently acquired during the winter of 1901-1902 while in New Jersey. The examples of Olney’s student work in the Lehigh Special Collections indicate that he was an especially capable student in his professional approach to his chosen career as civil engineer. His assignments are complete and thorough analyzing every aspect of the civil engineering problems requested of him by Professor Merriman.

Chronology [optional]

October 1891 to May 1892.


1 volume; 28 cm


This manuscript contains three bridge design class exercises indicating the instructional process to train engineering students. Specific step-by-step instruction in designing for various railroad bridge spans, building material specifications, structural loads and stresses to be considered as presented in the professor’s lecture. The complete process of calculating the design with comparisons of different conditions, as well as material available, costs incurred of every aspect of the assigned plan and alternatives are outlined in these class exercises. The professor is believed to be Mansfield Merriman as his textbooks are referenced. The manuscript presents an interesting view of class instruction in civil engineering in the late 19th century.

Organization of the Content

The arrangement is chronological beginning with the First Term of the Senior Year Civil Engineering courses on Bridge Design of two types of bridges: plate girder and riveted bridges October and November of 1891 and proceeds to the Second Term devoted to pin-connected bridges with working drawings in January 1892. It is apparent by the student exercises displayed in the manuscript that Professor Merriman prepared his students to be totally capable to assume full engineering design responsibility for an employer. Merriman’s class assignments utilized not only the design specifications for designing bridges but also included existing companies and places to accustom his students to their future career.

Acquisition Information

This manuscript was given by the Moravian Church Archives in 2012 as a gift to Lehigh University Archives. The manuscript had been found in the Church Archives during an inventory.

Related Material:

Olney, Robert Blum. 1892. “Plans and Specifications for Locomotive Engine House, at South Bethlehem, Pa. P. and R.R.R.” Senior Thesis 1892 O51p


Physical Description

1 volume; 27 cm.

Finding Aid of the Robert Blum Olney Bridge Design Class Notebook
William Ying
September 24, 2013
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Lehigh University Special Collections Repository

Lehigh University
Linderman Library
30 Library Drive
Bethlehem PA 18045 USA
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