John O’Rourke Eng 1876 was an authority on subway line, bridge and tunnel construction.
He studied mechanical and civil engineering at The Cooper Union, and worked in the office of Charles Guidet, a prominent New York contractor, after graduating.He then began studies in descriptive geometry and mathematics and became familiar with mapping and surveying through his work for Edward Boyle, civil engineer and surveyor.
John O’Rourke left this position to join the engineering corps of the New York Elevated Railroad. In 1882 he was lead engineer on the development of the Wisconsin Central’s St. Croix River Bridge, which was a half-mile long, 115 feet above water level, and on a difficult foundation. He later inspected the steel bridges across the Ohio River, worked on rail lines throughout the Midwest, and served as Chief Engineer of the Poughkeepsie Bridge, one of the biggest bridges of its day. In 1896 the firm Stephens & O’Rourke was established to develop pneumatic caissons for foundations of great depths.
John O’Rourke developed his most significant engineering feat, shield tunneling, which replaced brick tunnel walls with cast iron, in 1912. This process also used gravel-packing to prevent settlement of streets or buildings.
He was an officer in the Coast Artillery Corp, New York National Guard and president and chief engineer of O’Rourke Engineering Construction Company. Learn more here.
Originally published in the April 2009 issue of the CUAA Newsletter