Massena bridge spanned history

It was 75 years ago this fall that aluminum was first used on a bridge, and it’s located in Massena in the vicinity of the footbridge. Photo courtesy of Stephen Lindsay

MASSENA — It was 75 years ago this fall that aluminum was first used on a bridge, and it‘s located in Massena in the vicinity of the footbridge.

“The first bridge to have aluminum use as a span was built in Massena. It was put into use sometime in the autumn 75 years ago, in 1946,” Alcoa retiree Stephen Lindsay said.

Mr. Lindsay retired after working at Alcoa for 39½ years and then began digging into aluminum history. He’s the author of “The First Aluminum Bridges and Alcoa — Massena Operations.”

“I’ve always had some interest in the early history. Since retirement, I ended up joining a group based in Massena, NAPHA,” he said.

According to the National Aluminum Production Heritage Association’s website (http://www.naphausa.org), its mission is “the preservation of artifacts and history, related to production and products of the early aluminum industry for the interpretive display, for a broad audience to understand our nation’s industrial heritage.”

“They’ve got a lot of very early history photos from Massena operations,” Mr. Lindsay said.

He said there was a lot of aluminum capacity after World War II, and Alcoa, Reynolds Metals and others were looking for ways to put it to use.

“They were trying aluminum in lots of different applications. As the article shows, the very first application was to reduce the weight of decking of a bridge in Pittsburgh. But the first time it was used as a span was in Massena,” he said.

He said a 500-foot-long truss rail bridge over the Grasse River that had been built in 1900 needed to be replaced with an elevated line that would separate rail traffic fro road traffic. The new rail bridge was 925 feet with five 100-foot-long spans across the river. Four of the spans were made of steel from the Rankin Works of Bethlehem Steel near Pittsburgh. The fifth span was made of aluminum from Alcoa.

“Serving as a demonstration span it has since been noted as the very first aluminum bridge that was built anywhere in the world. It was put into use during the autumn of 1946. It’s 75th anniversary will be just after Labor Day in 2021,” Mr. Lindsay wrote in his article.

“It was quite fitting that this particular span is located less than one kilometer away from where the first production of aluminum metal occurred in Massena, on August 27, 1903. Massena is now not only the longest continually producing site for primary aluminum in the world. It also has the oldest working aluminum bridge in the world,” he wrote.

Mr. Lindsay said Kevin Kitzman from Arconic, a board member in NAPHA, informed him about the bridge.

“He pointed out to me that he knew that span was aluminum and had run across it in a book written by others from Alcoa. It had a reference as to when the bridge was built, so I just started researching it from there. I’ve got a fair amount of time,” he said.

As he did research for his article, Mr. Lindsay discovered that the first application of aluminum in a bridge was in 1933 in Pittsburgh, and there was also a Massena connection. He said aluminum road decking materials that were produced by Alcoa in Massena were used to renovate an existing bridge used for a trolley and vehicle traffic to make it lighter in weight and increase its capacity for traffic.

Other applications in bridges followed in the United Kingdom and in Saguenay, Quebec between 1947 and 1950.

Mr. Lindsay said he continues to research and write about aluminum.

“I still consult to Alcoa and to others. I work on technical articles that have to do with aluminum production. I’m working on a few historical articles as well, including this one. Another gentleman and I are trying to get a paper published in a technical journal that would recount the history of aluminum production in the United States,” he said.

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