Roberts, W. Milnor (William Milnor), 1810-1881

Alternative names
Birth 1810-02-12
Death 1881-07-14

Biographical notes:

William Milnor Roberts (1810-1881) was a Pennsylvania-born civil engineer. He began his career in 1825 on the Union Canal of Pennsylvania and by 1830 had gone on to railroad construction work. From 1835 to 1857, Roberts was engaged as chief engineer for various projects in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Canada, serving as chief of one company while, at the same time, consulting for several others. From 1857 to 1865 he was in charge of the building of the Don Pedro Railway in Brazil. After his return to the United States Roberts was engaged on important hydraulic and railroad works, such as the improvement of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the construction of the St. Louis Bridge, the water supplies of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and construction of a railroad in Nova Scotia. In 1869 he made the reconnaissance for a route to the Northern Pacific Railroad which included the route through Montana. His report published by Jay Cooke served as the basis for financing the construction of the line to the Pacific coast and he served as chief engineer for the Northern Pacific Railroad from 1870 to 1879. In 1874 President Grant appointed him on a commission of five engineers to examine the mouths of the great delta rivers of Europe in order to recommend treatment of the Mississippi delta. In 1879 Roberts accepted an appointment to direct the improvement of the harbors and rivers of Brazil. He married twice, first to Annie Gibson of Pennsylvania in 1837 with whom he had six children before her death in 1857, and to Adeline DeBeelen of Pittsburgh in 1868 with whom he had four children. He was a member of the American Society of Engineers, the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the American Geographical Society. William Milnor Roberts died of typhoid fever in Soledad, Brazil, July 14, 1881. In 1923 the engineering building on the Montana State College campus was named in his honor.

From the guide to the William Milnor Roberts Papers, 1828-1959, (Montana State University-Bozeman Library, Merrill G Burlingame Special Collections)


From the description of William Milnor Roberts papers, 1828-1959. (Montana State University Bozeman Library). WorldCat record id: 70959495

Civil engineer who surveyed the western routes for the Northern Pacific Railway in 1869-79.

From the description of William Milnor Roberts papers, 1828-1959. (Montana State University Bozeman Library). WorldCat record id: 42065301


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  • Mines and Mineral Resources
  • Railroads
  • Railroads--Montana
  • Engineers--Pennsylvania
  • Engineers--Brazil
  • Iron mines and mining
  • Photographs
  • Americans--Brazil
  • Public works--Brazil
  • Civil engineers--Biography--Sources
  • American
  • Engineers--Montana
  • Canals--History--Sources
  • Montana
  • Coal mines and mining
  • Railroads--History--Sources
  • Public works


  • Engineers--Pennsylvania
  • Engineers--Brazil
  • Engineers--Montana


  • Brazil-Description and travel (as recorded)
  • Brazil (as recorded)
  • Montana (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Pennsylvania (as recorded)
  • Kentucky (as recorded)
  • Kentucky (as recorded)
  • West (U.S.) (as recorded)
  • Brazil-Pictorial works (as recorded)