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Born: 3/3/1810, Died: 9/14/1883

Engineer, architect, and author John C. Trautwine was born in Philadelphia, the son of William and Sarah (Wilkinson) Trautwine. Like Thomas Ustick Walter, Trautwine studied under William Strickland, entering his office at the age of 18. Trautwine appears immediately to have been placed at a board; he signed Strickland's Arch Street Theatre drawing as delineator in July, 1828. While continuing to work for Strickland off and on for several years -- he performed most of the Wilmington and Susquehanna Railroad survey in 1835, for example -- Trautwine was designing buildings on his own. His first known commission is the Bank of Penn Township (Central-Penn National Bank) building (1830-31). The following year he entered the Wills Hospital for the Lame and Blind competition and placed second to Thomas Ustick Walter. Designs for a monument to be erected in Philadelphia's Washington Square (1833) and competition designs for the Pennsylvania Hospital (1834) and Preston Retreat (1837) followed. In 1835 his design for the building now known as the "Old Dorm" at Gettysburg College was executed.

Throughout his life, Trautwine continued to design buildings although he increasingly thought of himself as and derived his income from the practice of engineering. His 1840 house design for James H. Fyffe survives; he designed the First Moravian Church (1855-56) and entered the Academy of Natural Sciences competition of 1868. Of his successful career as an engineer little needs to be said here. In the late 1830s he lived in Tennessee, where he was chief engineer of the Hiwassee Railroad. In 1844 he began a five-year project in Columbia, South America, constructing the Canal de Dique. He surveyed the Isthmus of Panama, first for a railroad (1849-51), and then (1852) for an inter-oceanic canal route. His findings, published in the Journal of the Franklin Institute (March-May, July-November 1854), concluded that it would never be practical to dig a ship-canal across the Isthmus of Panama. (In 1854 he also lost his arm while measuring an iron coal car.) Returning to Philadelphia, Trautwine spent most of the balanace of his life as a consultant to various railroads.

By 1864 Trautwine had gone into semi-retirement. In 1871 he published the first edition of the Engineers' Pocket Book.

Written by Roger W. Moss.

Clubs and Membership Organizations

  • Engineers Club
  • Franklin Institute


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