Biographical / Historical
Holton Duncan Robinson, the youngest son of Ichabod Harvey and Isabelle (McLeod) Robinson, was born in Massena, New York, on February 7, 1863. Directly after graduating St. Lawrence University with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1886, he worked as a chain man for the civil engineering firm Buck and McNulty.
When the association between Buck and McNulty ended, Robinson continued his vocation with Buck and worked on computations and drawings for various bridges, including the Driving Park Avenue Bridge over the Genesee River at Rochester. Robinson was in charge of many aspects of New York bridge design and construction over the next several years, including the Williamsburg Bridge and Manhattan Bridge. He became chief engineer of the Glyndon Contracting Company in 1907 and designed the footbridge, machinery, and plant used in the construction of previously unseen 21-inch cables. Later in his career, he went on to build cables 30 inches in diameter. In 1910, he resigned as chief engineer of the company and built a bridge in Massena Center, New York, before continuing work on the Manhattan Bridge.
Robinson began work with Mackenzie and Mann in October of 1912 and worked as a bridge engineer consultant for the Canadian Northern Railway Company before resigning in 1914. During World War I, Robinson was employed by the Bureau of Yards and Docks, U.S. Navy, as a supervising engineer on plant extension work for war programs. He remained with the department until December 1919, when he joined forces with Daniel E. Moran and William H. Yates.
In 1920, David B. Steinman, a previous business acquaintance, offered Robinson a position as a partner in an engineering firm. The firm of Robinson and Steinman completed many notable bridge engagements during its 25 years, including design and construction of bridges across the country as well as in Canada, Bolivia, and Brazil. The men were also involved in the design for bridges in Australia, Germany, Spain, and Denmark.
Robinson's inventions included the hydraulically-operated cable-squeezing machine, electrically-operated cable-wrapping machine, flat-band seizings, and a simplified version of cable anchorage. He also helped to develop the Florianópolis type of suspension bridge as well as a method of preventing aerodynamic instability. Because of Robinson's additions to the field, the time it takes to build suspension bridges has been greatly reduced. He became a Life Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in January 1929.
Robinson remained active in the bridge construction field until his death on May 7, 1945. He and his wife Frank Brown had two children, daughter Mary Olivia and son Allan McLeod.