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ersatzS2

Washington A. Roebling RIP 100 years (+1 day)

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Cross-posted from the Mercer section:

The 100th anniversary of the sinking (edit: actually the sailing) of the Titanic was yesterday.

I thought this might be a fitting time to commemorate the passing of WA Roebling grandson of John Roebling, the german engineer-pioneer who immigrated to the US with Utopian ideals and a first-rate education. John Roebling was an amazing entrepreneur, who perfected both the manufacture of cable ("steel rope") and the design of suspension bridges, most famously the Brooklyn Bridge. He fathered a trio of entrepreneurial sons, Washington, Charles and Ferdinand. Washington, besides being a civil war officer with an remarkable service record (credited with recognizing the Union vulnerability of little round top at Gettysburg) went on to actually implement his deceased father's plans in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge (with incredible support from his wife Emily after he contracted the bends) The other two brothers went on to form the industrial utopian village/community of Roebling NJ, a vertically-integrated manufacturing facility on the banks of the Delaware in Burlington county NJ. Charles Roebling had a single son, whom he named Washington after his brother.

Not much has been written about WA Roebling, who was only 31 when he died. But from what we know, unlike his abstemious grandfather and uncles, he was the first of his family who lived the high life with other Gilded Age luminary families like the Vanderbilts, Mellons, Asters and Morgans. Like many young men of his generation, he was enamored of the nascent automobile industry and especially with motor racing. (recall that the Long Island Motor Parkway was originally a private motorsports park built by the Vanderbilts!) Unlike most men of his era, Washington had powerful entrepreneurial genes, and came from a very wealthy and supremely capable family of businessmen, engineers and manufacturers. His uncles were getting on in years by the time the Roebling-Planche relationship started, and even moreso by the time the family teamed up with the Kusers to form Mercer. So I like to think that Washington was really the driving force behind the formation of the company, and that it was his energy and vision which guided the company toward hiring the brilliant Finley Robertson Porter, who built the T-head Raceabout. It is pretty easy to think of the young man, flush with new ideas and fabulous stories about the emerging racing scene, persuading his father and uncles into diversifying into the new auto business. After all, everyone else was doing it, many of them with far less experience and success than the Roebling/Kusers.

I'm not qualified nor is it necessary to recount the success of the first Mercer on the racing scene. Suffice to say that in a few short years it established its place forever in the lexicon and history of the Sportscar, especially the American Sportscar. It had everything: Competition success, groundbreaking engineering and design values, stylistic panache, and cachet with the rich and famous.

Merely two years after launching Mercer, WA Roebling was killed on the Titanic. The car company he helped birth saw amazing success for a few years even following his death. With momentum he helped build, it launched a second model, designed around the L-head engine of Eric Delling. The details of the decline and eventual liquidation of Mercer are well known and described many other places. But it is fun to imagine what could have been, had WA survived the Titanic. Would the company have continued to race the L-head? Would the pace of engineering innovation have continued, on par with European pioneers like Peugeot, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, or Stutz and Duesenberg in the US?

Instead, it is easy to imagine WA's father Charles, shattered over the tragic loss of his only son, losing all interest in managing the company founded, in part, around that son's vision and enthusiasm.

I'm just speculating. But Mercer stood out instantly from the huge crop of new car manufactures that sprang up during the 20th century's first decade. Who knows, if WA had survived, Mercer may have become the Ferrari of US car companies.

Edited by ersatzS2 (see edit history)

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Actually the Titanic's ill fated maiden voyage started 100 years ago yesterday. It sank on the 15th of April, just a couple of hours past midnight.

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Pullen-III.jpg

ersatzS2, Thanks for posting all of that information about Roebling and the Mercer. If anyone would like to know more about the Mercer we have pages of posts along with many rare photos on theoldmotor.com

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