Tribute to the Bridge Builder Ralph Modjeski

Ralph Modjeski was originally born as Rudolf Modrzejewski in 1861 in Bochnia near Krakow. Bochnia and Krakowe were in that time a part of the Austrian empire. He was a son of Helena Modrzejewska, later known as Modjeska, a famous Polish actress. His mother decided to immigrate to the US in 1976 with a group of friends, they hoped to start communal farm in California, but this was not a successful enterprise. On the way to America, they visited a great Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. It probably had a big impact on 15th year old Ralph, who already demonstrated talents in many areas, among them music.
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Helena Modjeska started a second career in America as an American actress. In the same time Ralph was sent to Paris to study at the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees, a top civil engineering school. In 1995 he graduated in a top of his class, then he returned to America. He interned with George Morrison, one of America's top bridge engineers. After seven years he was ready to start his own firm of Modjeski and Masters.

Modjeski built several bridges. He perfected the technology of building suspension bridges. Among several bridges he built is the Benjamin Franklin Bridge linking Philadelphia with Camden, NJ. At its completion in 1926, this was the largest suspension bridge in the world, with 1,750-foot span. He built also a new bridge on the St. Lawrence River that became the longest cantilever span in the world, a distinction it still holds today. His company also built Oakland Bay Bridge joining Oakland and San Francisco. When the bridge was completed in November 1936 Modjeski was 75 years old. He died in 1940. Among his accomplishments are almost 40 major bridges in the United States.

Night view of the illuminated Ben Franklin Bridge

Official Certificate of the Engineers' Club of Philadelphia, presented to the Polish Heritage Society of Philadelphia, honoring the great achievements and contributions of Ralph Modjeski.

Modjeski received several awards, among them are three honoris causa doctorate degrees, and the Washington Award - the highest award that could be given an engineer in the United States. He also received three times the annual prize for the most beautiful bridge from the American Institute of Steel Construction.

Consul General Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, of the Consulate of the Republic of Poland in New York, participated in all of the Modjeski ceremonies. He is shown announcing to Debbie Majka, President of the Polish Heritage Society of Philadelphia, that she has been designated Poland's Honorary Consul in Philadelphia.

The State of Pennsylvania's Ralph Modjeski Historical Marker erected in Fairmont Park, adjacent to the Ben Franklin Bridge.

The official dedication of Ralph Modjeski Historical Marker took place on September 15, 2007 near the entrance to Franklin Square, opposite to the Franklin bridge. The historical marker was approved by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. But this is thanks to the Polish Heritage Society in Philadelphia that the marker was dedicated. Now there is a hope that Ralph Modjeski would not be called anymore "The Forgotten Engineer".

Read the article about Casimir S. Gzowski - another famous Polish-Canadian engineer.

Photographs and captions by Richard P. Poremski, contact the author by e-mail.
The article entitled "Bridge Builder Modjeski to be Recognized" was published originally in Polish-American Journal
September, 2007


1. Ralph Modjeski - Bridge Builder, by Peter J. Obst from: info-poland in Buffalo.
2. Polish-American Journal - paper edition, September 2007.

Check articles devoted to
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Check also a broad selection of press releases by Richard Poremski.

I recommend a book about Modjeski's work A man who spanned two eras: The story of bridge engineer Ralph Modjeski

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