Elmer Lawrence Corthell (1840-1916) and the ambitions of a civil engineer

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Described by the New York Times as "..one of the most prominent engineers in the Western Hemisphere", Elmer Lawrence Corthell (1840-1916) was a renowned engineer both within the field and with the general public. Corthell believed that engineering was crucial to the prosperity of the United States and that engineering had a responsibility to become a worthwhile profession. After a brief survey of Corthell's overall career, three periods of his professional life are studied which influenced his career and his views on engineering - the Mississippi Jetties (1875-80), the Tehuantepec Ship Railway (1884-87) and his consulting work for the Argentine Republic (1900-02). In addition, three of his leadership efforts are considered: his attempts to establish a School of Architecture and Engineering at the University of Chicago (1889-1903), his chairmanship of the General Committee of the 1893 World's Congress Auxiliary on Engineering, an international gathering of engineers that coincided with the Exposition in Chicago and his attempt to set up an International Institute of Engineers and Architects in 1894 to align professionals across the world. The career of Elmer Lawrence Corthell tells the story of a nineteenth-century engineer who sought to improve the country as well as the position and knowledge of engineers. Corthell was a leader among his peers and recognized for his contributions to engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-159
Number of pages19
JournalConstruction History
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Civil engineering education
  • Civil engineering profession
  • Elmer Lawrence Corthell
  • Institute of Engineers and Architects
  • James B. Eads
  • School of engineering and architecture
  • University of Chicago

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Architecture
  • Building and Construction
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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