The development of structural engineering has always been as dependent upon the availability of materials as upon the expansion of theoretical concepts. Perhaps the greatest single step in the history of civil engineering was the introduction of iron as a primary structural material in the 19th century; it quickly released the bridge and the building from the confines of a technology based upon the limited strength of masonry and wood.Wendel Bollman, self-taught Baltimore civil engineer, was the first to evolve a system of bridging in iron to be consistently used on an American railroad, becoming one of the pioneers who ushered in the modern period of structural engineering.
for the major bridges, there were several situations in which masonry construction was unsuitable for practical reasons. If stone arches were used in locations where the grade of the line was a relatively short distance above the surface of the stream to be crossed, a number of short arches would have been necessary to avoid a very flat single arch. In arch construction, the smaller the segment of a circle represented by the arch (that is, the flatter the arch), the greater the stress in the arch ring and the resulting horizontal thrust on the abutments.
[Illustration: Figure 9.--BOLLMAN SKEW BRIDGE at Elysville (now Daniels), Maryland, built in 1853-1854. (Photo courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.)]
The piers for the numerous arches necessary to permit an optimum amount of rise relative to the span would have presented a dangerous restriction to stream flow in time of flood. By the use of timber trusses such crossings could be made in one or two spans with, at the most, one pier