Leon Moisseiff

Leon Solomon Moisseiff (November 10, 1872 – September 3, 1943)[1] was a leading suspension bridge engineer in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. He was awarded The Franklin Institute's Louis E. Levy Medal in 1933.[2]

Leon Moisseiff
Leon Solomon Moisseiff

(1872-11-10)November 10, 1872
Riga, Latvia
DiedSeptember 3, 1943(1943-09-03) (aged 70)
Belmar, New Jersey
Resting placeMount Hebron Cemetery
EducationColumbia University
Known forSuspension bridge engineering, use of steel in bridges
Notable workManhattan Bridge
George Washington Bridge
Benjamin Franklin Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge of 1940
AwardsLouis E. Levy Medal in 1933

His developments of the theory of suspension bridges are eclipsed by the dramatic failure of the Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge, his design, four months after its completion in 1940. The failure was filmed, and is shown to engineering students as a reminder of the possibility of failure, and to avoid hubris.


Moisseiff was born in Riga, Latvia (at the time, Russian Empire), to a Jewish family.[3] He started his education there and studied at the Baltic Polytechnic Institute for three years; he emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of 19, in 1891, because of political activities. In the US, he graduated from Columbia University with a degree in civil engineering in 1895.[1]

He began his career in New York, and gained a national reputation as one of the designers of the Manhattan Bridge over the East River. He also assisted chief engineer Ralph Modjeski in designing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge across the Delaware River.

He was an early advocate of all-steel bridges, which began to replace concrete and stone structures in the 1920s. He became known for his work on "deflection theory," which held that the longer bridges were, the more flexible they could be. Charles Alton Ellis[4] elaborated on Moisseiff's theories, and applied them in the design of the famed Golden Gate Bridge. Moisseiff served as a consulting engineer on the bridge, but declined to speak up for his colleague Charles Ellis[4] when he was fired from the project.

Moisseiff called the Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge, the first bridge that he designed as the leading engineer, the "most beautiful bridge in the world." However, he lost his strong reputation when this narrow span across the Puget Sound in Washington State collapsed in a windstorm four months after it opened in 1940.

The motion of the bridge earned it the name Galloping Gertie. The dramatic film of the bridge's collapse, as a twisting motion added to the stress of longitudinal waves along the span, is still shown to engineering, architecture, and physics students as a good example of torsional flutter gone awry.

The bridge was redesigned and rebuilt in 1950 to carry westbound traffic. Another bridge was completed to carry eastbound traffic in 2007.

In response to concerns after the failure of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940 and a major San Francisco Bay windstorm in 1951, the Golden Gate Bridge, for which Moisseiff had served as a consulting engineer during construction, was briefly closed. The bridge was inspected and underwent retrofitting to be more resistant to the types of twisting that led to bridge collapse at Tacoma Narrows.[5]

On occasion, Leon Moisseiff was involved in resolving tensions between workers and their employers. In 1914, Benjamin Schlesinger of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) contacted Leon Moisseiff to assist in convincing the clothing manufacturers of Philadelphia to come to an agreement with the union before a major strike broke out. (Lorwin, pgs. 277 - 278)

Death and legacyEdit

Moisseiff died of a heart attack in 1943.

When Moisseiff died, he was on a federal committee to improve the design of suspension bridges. His son felt that the bridge failure contributed to his death. [6]

Though he had designed many other famous spans, the Narrows collapse overshadowed them all. It became a symbol of failed engineering and the dangers of arrogance in design. As tragic as this disastrous design flaw became to Moisseiff personally, it motivated the engineers to further research and substantially improve the design and safety of suspension bridges.[6]


  • Moisseiff, Leon S. Suspension Bridges Under the Action of Lateral Forces, in "Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers", 1933, n. 98.
  • Henry Petroski (1995). Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America. Knopf, New York. ISBN 978-0-679-43939-4. (for more information about Moiseiff and his career)
  • Louise Nelson Dyble (2009). Paying the Toll: Local Power, Regional Politics, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-4147-1.


  1. ^ a b "Leon Moisseiff, Biographical Sketch". Structurae. Retrieved April 16, 2021.
  2. ^ "Franklin Laureate Database – Louis E. Levy Medal Laureates". Franklin Institute. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved January 22, 2011.
  3. ^ Leon S. Moisseiff, Bridge Builder and Jewish Writer, Dead, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, September 7, 1943
  4. ^ a b "Charles Alton Ellis". PBS.
  5. ^ Rodriguez, Joe Fitzgerald (December 25, 2019). "100 years ago an engineer unlocked the Golden Gate Bridge's beauty. Years later, his career ended in shame". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved April 16, 2021.
  6. ^ a b Dunnally, Derrick (October 31, 2015). "The man blamed for the fall of Tacoma's Galloping Gertie". The Olympian. Olympia, Washington. Retrieved April 16, 2021.

Further readingEdit

Louis Lorwin, A History of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (1924) pgs. 277 - 278.

External linksEdit