Albert Fink (Albert Fink)

Albert Fink

Railroad engineer and operator, generally regarded as the “Father of Railway Economics and Statistics” in the United States; he was also known as the “Teutonic Giant” because he was 6′ 7″ tall. He was educated at private and polytechnic schools at Darmstadt, Germany, he graduated in engineering and architecture in 1848.  Unsympathetic with the forces that triumphed in the German revolution of that year, he emigrated to the United States in 1849, and entered the drafting office of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad under Benjamin H Latrobe, Chief Engineer.  He was soon placed in charge of design and erection of bridges, stations, and shops for the section of the railroad from Grafton to Moundsville, VA,(now WV). During this period he invented the bridge truss which bears his name, and which was first used in the bridge over the Monongahela at Fairmont VA, (now West Va), in 1852, the three spans of 305 feet each comprising at the time the longest iron railroad bridge in the United States.  He became section engineer and later division engineer, but left the Baltimore & Ohio in 1857 to become construction engineer of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, with headquarters at Louisville, KY.  Here he planned and superintended the erection of a freight and passenger station, then turned his attention to bridging the Green River, about seventy-four miles south of Louisville, an achievement that attracted much attention because of its engineering difficulties.  The bridge was constructed over a wide gorge, at a considerable distance above water, and at an angle to the main direction of the stream.  At the time it was the largest iron bridge on the continent of North America, except for the Victoria Bridge at Montreal.  At this same period Fink designed and constructed a new court-house for the city of Louisville.  In 1859, he took charge of the machinery of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, in addition to buildings and bridges, and in 1860 became chief engineer of that railroad.  During the Civil War, much of the property of the Louisville & Nashville was destroyed, and it fell to him to carry out the work of reconstruction.  At the end of the war, the railroad was in good physical condition, and found it comparatively easy to settle its accounts with the government, because of the intelligent and complete records which Fink had maintained.  In 1865 he was promoted to General Superintendent.  During the succeeding ten years he rehabilitated the line, built up business-like relations with competing and connecting companies, and as an engineer completed his crowing work, the bridge across the Ohio River at Louisville.  The total length of the bridge was one mile and the principal span of 400 feet over the Indiana channel of the river was the longest truss bridge in the world.  Following the death of the president of the railroad in 1869, Fink was given wider powers through appointment as vice-president and general superintendent.  He now began in his annual reports to publish information as to the real cost of transportation.  He analyzed and standardized freight rates, establishing them upon accounting and statistical basis.  He raised accounts and statistics to the level of a science — the economics of railway operation.  His report of 1874, generally known as “The Fink Report on Cost of Transportation,” is regarded as the foundation stone of American railway economics.  At this time, this report was called “the fullest investigation into the cost of railroad transportation ever published in our country or language” (Railway Gazette, May 30, 1874).  In addition, the took an active part in extending the Louisville & Nashville Railroad beyond Nashville as far as Montgomery, AL, which involved large financing, partly negotiated in England.  The wisdom of his financial measures, both in financing and in operation, was thoroughly tested during the panic of 1873, when the Louisville & Nashville was one of the few railroads which continued payment of interest on its funded debt and escaped bankruptcy.  In 1875 he resigned, his intention being to retire from active life and engage in literary work on various railroad problems.  This intention was frustrated by the offer of the executive directorate of the Southern Railway & Steamship Association, then recently formed, with the principal offices in Atlanta GA.  The railroads between 1870 and 1880 were engaged in considerable warfare among themselves, there being no effective regulation of rates or other railway practices, and the wiser heads among railway officials recognized the necessity of appointing a man of known ability and integrity to iron out their difficulties.  In his two years as commissioner Fink undertook to eliminate, or at least to smooth down, the many points at which the twenty-five competitive Southern railways found themselves at loggerheads, and to give to the public a stabilized set of freight rates on which they could depend.  He was successful in bringing a fair degree of order out of the existing chaos.  In 1877, he again decided to retire but at the urgent request of the chief executives of the four trunk lines centering in New York City, he organized the Trunk Line Association in an effort to settle the disastrous rate war then in progress.  He became its commissioner, with powers and duties similar to those he had held in Atlanta, and met with success summed up by Charles Francis Adams as follows: “It is safe to say that the greatest of all these combinations — that of the Trunk Lines — is held together only by the personal influence and the force of character of one man, its Commissioner” (quoted in Transaction of the American Society of Civil Engineers, XLI, 635).  The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, beginning the period of government regulation, made work of his type less vital, and this fact, together with his failing health, led him to retire from active work in 1889.  The rest of his life he spent largely in his Kentucky home, devoting himself to study and research.  He died at a sanitarium on the Hudson River in his seventieth year.  During his young manhood Fink was married in Baltimore and after the death of his first wife he was married a second time on April 14, 1869 to Sarah Hunt of Louisville.  (bio by: Gene  Phillips)  Family links:  Spouse:  Sarah Moore Hunt Fink (1831 – 1872)* *Calculated relationship

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