July 4th Special: American Engineering Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

In honor of July 4th, and to celebrate our country’s legacy of engineering innovation, check out a wrap up of interesting engineering breakthroughs and historically significant events you may not have known.

Idaho: American Falls Dam
Sometimes civil engineering projects require people or organizations to give up their lands to allow for new development, but rarely does an entire town have to move to make way for new construction. But that’s exactly what happened with the American Falls Dam near the town of American Falls, Idaho, which required nearly the entire town to relocate so it could be built. The structure is a concrete gravity-type dam on the Snake River and is part of the Minidoka Project, which is used for flood control, irrigation, and recreation. The Bureau of Reclamation forced the relocation of 75% of American Falls in 1923 and finished building the original dam in 1925. That structure was eventually demolished and replaced in the 1970s by the dam that exists on the site today.

Kansas: Big Well in Greensburg
Sometimes it takes a bit of clever engineering and human will to find water. That was the case in Greensburg, Kansas, in the 1880s, when a water supply was needed not only for the local community, but also for the Santa Fe and Rock Island railroads. A team of engineers dug deep, literally, to create what’s aptly called the Big Well, the world’s largest hand-dug well, at 109 feet deep and 32 feet in diameter. Crews of 12 to 15 farmers, cowboys, and transients worked using shovels, picks, half barrels, pulleys, and ropes to create the well. The team finished the well in 1888 and for years it served as the municipal water supply of Greensburg until 1937, when it was covered and became a tourist attraction. People can now visit a museum at the site and descend an illuminated stairway to the bottom of the well.

Kentucky: Pikeville Cut-Through
One of the largest civil engineering projects in the Western Hemisphere is located in rural Kentucky. The Pikeville Cut-Through is a rock cut that was made in order to allow a four-lane divided highway, a railroad line, and the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River to pass through a large rock formation. The project moved nearly 18 million cubic yards of soil and rock, compared to the Big Dig in Massachusetts, another large state civic project, which moved 15 million cubic yards. Pikeville native William Hambley envisioned the project in 1960 simply because he wanted to relocate the rail bed due to all the dust that came from the daily coal-hauling trains that passed through the city. The cut-through is 1,300 feet wide, 3,700 feet long, and 523 feet deep. The project took 14 years to complete, finally finishing in 1987 and costing $77.6 million, which today would be $161 million.

Alaska: The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad
The Alaskan oil pipeline is perhaps the most famous engineering project in the most northern state, but there is another lesser-known one that also has historic significance, and it owes its existence to the Gold Rush of the late 1890s. The White Pass & Yukon Route — an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark — was built to provide a safer passage on the treacherous route from the port of Skagway across the mountains to the Canadian border at the summit of the White Pass/Chilkoot Pass for prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. Ironically, by the time the railway was complete in 1900, most of the Gold Rush fever had subsided, and so it wasn’t really used for its original purpose. However, the scenic railway has been preserved and is still active today.

Excerpts from this article were taken from DesignNews.com 

Sign up for our Newsletter
and get articles like this sent straight to your inbox