On this day in 1912, Washington Augustus Roebling II, a 31-year-old race car engineer and driver, dies in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Roebling was named for his uncle, a civil engineer who helped build the Brooklyn Bridge.
Roebling was born March 25, 1881, in Trenton, New Jersey. After studying engineering in school, he went to work in the burgeoning American auto industry. He eventually developed a race car, known as the Roebling-Planche, which took second place in the Vanderbilt Cup Race in 1910 in Savannah, Georgia. In 1912, Roebling, along with his chauffeur, his Fiat car and a friend, sailed to Europe, where they traveled to several countries. For the return trip home to America, Roebling booked a first-class cabin on the Titanic, then the world’s largest and most luxurious ocean liner, measuring 882 feet in length and tipping the scales at over 46,000 tons.
Roebling boarded the ship at Southampton, England, on April 12, 1912, for its maiden voyage. Two days later, at approximately 11:40 p.m., the Titanic struck an iceberg in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, about 400 miles from Newfoundland. Two hours and 40 minutes after hitting the iceberg, the mangled luxury liner, which had been dubbed “unsinkable” by the press, lay broken in pieces at the bottom of the sea, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 passengers and crew members. (The Titanic carried 20 boats capable of holding 1,178 people, which exceeded regulations at the time but was hardly sufficient for the 2,228 individuals onboard.)
Washington Roebling II was survived by his uncle and namesake, an engineer and a colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War who in the late 1860s had become an assistant engineer on the Brooklyn Bridge project. In 1869, he replaced his father John Roebling, who designed the bridge, as head engineer following the older man’s death. Construction of the bridge, which would link the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn across the East River, began in January 1870. Two years later, Washington Roebling’s ability to work was impacted by decompression sickness and his wife Emily Roebling had to take over day-to-day supervision of the project, which was successfully completed in 1883 and at more than 6,000 feet in length, was at the time the world’s longest suspension bridge. Washington Roebling died on July 21, 1926, at the age of 89.