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Ralph Modjeski, Polish-American Civil Engineer and “America’s Greatest Bridge Builder”

CNG 91, Lot: 1198. Estimate $2000.
Sold for $4500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

CENTRAL EUROPE. Presentation Cup. Uncertain Austrian manufacture in gilt silver alloy. Made 1903. Gilt silver alloy presentation footed cup. Cup proper and foot are of arched conical shape joined by a knop consisting of a band of pellets. Body and base of cup are decorated with ten silver and gold coins (mostly Polish) consisting of the following types:

POLAND. Zygmunt I Stary. AR AR 3 Groszy. Dated 1538.
POLAND. Zygmunt III Wazay. AR AR 3 Groszy. Dated 15[...]2.
POLAND. Zygmunt III Waza. AR AR 6 Groszy. Dated 1595.
POLAND. Zygmunt III Waza. AR AR 6 Groszy. Dated [15]96.
POLAND. Stanisław August Poniatowski. AR Taler. Dated 1794.
POLAND. Krakow. AR 1 Zloty. Dated 1835.
RUSSIA. Nikolai II Aleksandrovich. AV 15 Rublei. Dated 1897.
UNITED STATES. AV Half Eagle. Dated 1836.
UNITED STATES. AV Quarter Eagle. Dated 1866.
UNITED STATES. AV Quarter Eagle. Dated 1878.

External fields of cup proper and base engraved with biography and accomplishments of Rudolf Modrzejewski (Ralph Modjeski [1861-1940]). Underside of base inscribed Ofiaruje na pamiatke pobytu w Europie/1903 and with Austrian mark signifying cup composed of gilt silver alloy with less than .250 silver; uncertain maker’s mark opposite.

Translation of the Polish inscription:

(On cup)

Rudolf Modrzejewski

Born 27.I.1861 in Kraków.
Finished lower and middle schools in Kraków.
Ponts et Chaussées School (l'Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées) in Paris "major" 1885.
Polish-American Engineer:
Omaha Bridge Assistant 1885-7.
Athens Pa: Inspector 1887-90.
Plans and inspection of bridge Memphis Tenn: 1890-2.
Chicago 1892 independent engineer. Rock Island Government Bridge over the Mississippi Ill: 1894-6
Northern Pacific 1897.
Chief Engineer of the city of Chicago.
Thebes Bridge Miss: Ill. 1902.
Chief Engineer Northern Pacific
Monon Ry. Kentucky + Indiana, Chicago.
Milwaukee Electric Ry. = Sanitary Dis: Chicago
President Western Society of Engineers 1903.
Composition (of) Fireproof Arsenal Rock Island 1904.
Bridge over Missouri in Bismarck N. D. 1905-1906.
Bridge in Peoria Ill. 1906.
Bridges over Columbia and Willamette Portland Ore 1905-8.
Bridge over Mississippi in St. Louis 1908-1910.
Commission of the bridge in Quebec on the St. Lawrence River 1908.
Testing and inspection of Manhattan Bridge in New York 1909
Chief Engineer of the bridge over the Kentucky River 1909.

(On exterior of base)

Married Felicyę Benda in New York 28.XII.1885
Felix Bozenta 6.VIII.1887 Omaha Neb:
Marylka Stuart Helena 22.I.1893 Chicago Ill:
Karolek Jan Emmanuel 20.II.1897 Chicago Ill:

(On interior of base)

I offer in memory of your stay in Europe

Dimensions: 18.8cm total height; 10.5cm wide at opening, to 5cm at base of cup proper; base flares out from 5cm to 9.7cm. Total weight: 345.20 g. Good VF, toned, remaining niello, small ding at lip of cup. An interesting historical memento.

Ralph Modjeski, a Polish American civil engineer who was a pre-eminent bridge designer in the United States, was born in Kraków on 27 January 1861. Before emigrating to the United States in 1876, Modjeski attended the local Polish public schools and was a classmate of Jan Paderewski, the famous pianist and second prime minister of the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939). After graduating at the head of his class in 1885 at the École des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris, Modjeski returned to the US. After working under George S. Morison (1842-1903), who was the leading contemporary bridge designer, Modjeski struck out on his own and in 1892 formed his own company. Over the course of the next 46 years, Modjeski either personally designed, or designed in consultation with others, dozens of railroad and roadway bridges across the United States. His redesign of the Quebec Bridge created the longest truss span in the world and is still the longest cantilever bridge in the world. Pioneering suspension bridge design, he built nearly 40 bridges of this type. One of Modjeski's students was Joseph B. Strauss, the designer of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, which was completed six month's after Modjeski's own SanFrancisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Ralph Modjeski died in Los Angeles on 26 June 1940.

For a complete record of the life and accomplishments of Ralph Modjeski, see