Excerpt from Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America by Henry Petroski (1996)
As Lindenthal grew older, each birthday was noted by the press. On the occasion of his eightieth, in 1930, for example, he was reported to have planned to spend part of the day at the office of the North River Bridge Company, in Jersey City, and the rest of the day at his home in Metuchen, New Jersey. He later admitted to being a bit miffed that his associate on the bridge project, the consulting engineer Francis Lee Stuart, called him to come into Manhattan for an important business lunch at the Engineers Club. It proved to be a surprise birthday luncheon, perhaps marred only by his being asked if he was not cheered that the war was over and that the War Department was going to reconsider his proposed North River Bridge. “He waved the inquiry aside,” however, saying “he would rather not discuss the bridge on his birthday.”
On his eighty-first birthday, in the year when the George Washington Bridge was to be opened at 179th Street, The New York Times reported that the War Department had still not ruled on Lindenthal’s bridge 120 blocks to the south. Nevertheless, he was now confident that it would, as he spent the day hard at work in his office from eight-thirty in the morning till five in the evening. The application for a permit was eventually “pigeonholed for eight or nine years,” however, and approval was never to come. Honors, not bridges, came to Lindenthal in his old age. Late in 1932, for example, he was hailed at a dinner given by the Architecture League as the “grand old man of engineering.” In response to his introduction as one of the guests of honor, Lindenthal spoke of his career and “of his difficulties with politicians particularly in the building of the Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queens-borough bridges and of his feeling of satisfaction when unhampered by political interference he built the great Hell Gate arch.” He evidently never did learn how to or want to deal with politicians, and this, more than any other factor, kept him from realizing his dream of a North River Bridge…
Lindenthal did not go to his office on his eighty-fifth birthday. He spent it at his New Jersey home, which he had named The Lindens, recuperating after a long illness. He was never to regain his health, and he died two months later. Until his final illness, he had remained active as president and chief engineer of the North River Bridge Company, working on “his dream of forty years.” The funeral was held at the family home. Of the two younger engineers most closely associated with Lindenthal during the construction of the Hell Gate Bridge, only David Steinman was reported to be in attendance.