In 1907, an American engineer named Theodore Cooper was leading a project to build the Québec Bridge, spanning the St. Lawrence River. Once complete, it would be one of the largest and longest structures ever built. It would provide an economic boost to the region, enabling goods to be shipped more easily by rail between the American New England states and the Canadian province of Québec.
Cooper was chosen because of his stellar reputation, illustrious career, and expertise in bridge building. His 1884 book, General Specifications for Iron Railroad Bridges and Viaducts, was the definitive textbook for other bridge design engineers at the time.
But on a hot summer's day in late August of that year, tragedy struck. Near the end of the workday, a worker was driving rivets into the southern span of the bridge. He noticed that the rivets he had driven in an hour before had snapped in two. As he was about to report his concerns to his foreman, the air was suddenly filled with the deafening sound of grinding metal.
The worker looked up and saw the bridge begin to fall into the water, creating a force like nothing he had ever felt before. The sound carried for miles. People in nearby Québec City felt an earthquake-like tremor.
Most of the 85 men working on the bridge were immediately catapulted hundreds of feet into the air as the bridge fell beneath their feet. They died the second they hit the water. Other workers were crushed or dragged ...