photo credits: J. Wayman Williams  





See Maillart's notes from Ritter's class.


Wilhelm Ritter graduated first in his class of twenty civil engineers from the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (Federal Institute of Technology) in Zurich in 1868. After working for a year on a railroad line in Hungary, he was invited by Culmann to become one of his assistants at the ETH. He left for Russia in 1873 to take a position as a professor at the polytechnic school in Riga. After Culmann’s death, he was called back to the ETH and began to write his Anwendungen der Graphischen Statik [Applications of Graphic Statics]. While working within the tradition of Culmann’s Die Graphische Statik [Graphic Statics], Ritter contradicted some of his teacher’s methodologies. For example, in his second edition, Culmann had presented both geometric and algebraic methods of analysis; Ritter considered this redundant and abandoned the algebraic treatment.

Ritter’s own work focused on developing applications for Culmann’s graphic statics, studying structural problems in bridge design, and answering a broad range of questions for which his advice was sought. Ritter’s trip to the United States in 1893 had a great impact on his thinking, as seen in numerous publications ranging from sketches of the Chicago Columbian Exposition, to reports on Chicago’s bridges, to a study of engineering education in America, and finally to a report on bridges throughout the country.

Ritter made a deep personal impression on his students, conveying to them his emphasis on the importance of aesthetics in the education of civil engineers. The strong visual component of his teaching related applied mechanics to structural form and encouraged his students to visualize the flow of forces within a structure, as well as the ways in which different forms could change that flow. Ritter’s death in 1906 concluded a half-century tradition of structural engineering education in Zurich, which was to produce over the next half century at least two men who can be ranked among the outstanding bridge designers of the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, Robert Maillart and Othmar Ammann.

© 2003 The Princeton University Art Museum