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Did You Know?

The Fritz Legacy

A steel industry pioneer and original Lehigh Trustee, John Fritz (1822-1913) was world renowned as an inventor who “designed machinery almost incapable of breaking down.” In 1905, the five major engineering societies of his day united to establish and bestow annually the John Fritz Medal, still considered the top award in the field of engineering.

In 1909, Fritz designed, funded and supervised construction of the outstanding engineering research resource of its time. Fritz Engineering Lab helped propel Lehigh into materials and structural research leadership, and contributed significantly to U.S. defense efforts in both World Wars. Overhauled in 1955, the Lab maintained its leadership status with the help of the Baldwin Universal Test Machine – which could crack an egg without harming its living contents, or produce 5,000,000 pounds of force to tear and crush 100-foot steel girders. The facility also provided for research and education in hydraulics, materials and concrete, soil mechanics, sanitary engineering, and structural modeling.

NAE member and 2000 Fritz Medal recipient John W. Fisher regularly provides insight into high-profile structural failures, such as the 9/11 WTC attacks and the 2008 collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minnesota. As founding director of Lehigh’s Center for Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems (ATLSS), he helped sustain Fritz’s Lehigh legacy in state-of- the-art infrastructural research and education.
As director of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, NAE member and professor Lynn Beedle was the recognized champion of skyscrapers as a viable alternative to urban sprawl, and inspired the world’s architectural engineers to devise elegant solutions to problems of tall buildings and cities. Beedle won the Fritz Medal in 1995.
NAE and Royal Society member George Irwin, along with fellow mechanical engineering professors Fazil Erdogan, George Sih and Robert Wei (left to right), helped launch Lehigh’s international reputation in fracture mechanics. Their research enabled countless new ways of improving the safety and effectiveness of airplanes, bridges, buildings and other complex engineering systems.
Some of the world’s leading metallurgists and materials scientists – such as professors Robert Stout, Richard Hertzberg and NAE member Alan Pense – have engaged the lab’s resources to better understand the interplay of materials and structural design.
2009 marks the centennial of Lehigh’s Fritz Engineering Lab, a registered National Historic Engineering Landmark. From the Panama Canal, to the Golden Gate, Chesapeake Bay, George Washington, and (Niagara Falls) Rainbow Bridges, to city skylines all around the world and the first communications satellite to orbit above it, the influence of the lab – and the legendary Lehigh engineers who gave it life – is unquestionable.

Heritage Initiative

The Lehigh Engineering Heritage Initiative is a community supported project that recognizes the accomplishments that reflect Lehigh’s undeniable influence on the field of engineering.