While I was researching descendants of Samuel Fuller who settled in Maine after the Revolutionary War, I stumbled across Charles Alton Ellis, who is my fourth cousin twice removed. He was born in Parkman, Piscataquis County, in 1876. He was the son of David Brainard Ellis and Eliza Wharff Lombard.
He attended Wesleyan University (Middletown, Connecticut), where he was a catcher on the baseball team. He graduated in 1900 with B.A. degree in mathematics and Greek, with courses in higher mechanics. Greek translation was a hobby of his into his retirement years.
He went to work for the American Bridge Company where he calculated the stresses of the New York City subway tubes under the Hudson River.
In 1908 he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan and served as an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering until 1912.
He went to work for the Dominion Bridge Company and was co-designer of the Montreal Harbour Bridge.
In 1913 he married Elsie Louise Ney of Rocky Hill, Connecticut. They had no children.
In 1914 he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois and gained the position of Professor of Structural and Bridge Engineering.
In 1921 he accepted a position as Vice President in charge of bridge design and construction supervision for the Strauss Engineering Corporation of Chicago. He received his degree in Civil Engineering in 1922. That year he published Essentials in the Theory of Framed Structures.
Strauss had been hired by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to design and build a bridge at the entrance to San Francisco harbor. Strauss’ first bridge design was rejected by the Board, so he brought Charles Ellis into the project as a designer. Ellis began work in 1930, overseeing the test borings for the bridge footings. Working twelve to fourteen hour days, he completed the design in just four months. The design was accepted by the Board of Directors in August 1930. He continued his work, writing the specifications for ten bridge construction contracts, which involved everything from concrete for the anchorages, to suspension cables.
In October of 1931, Strauss began to pressure Ellis to complete his work. Ellis wanted to take more time to check that all his calculations were accurate. In November, funding for the bridge was approved. In December, Strauss ordered Ellis to take a vacation. During his vacation Strauss informed him that his services were no longer needed by the company. He was replaced by a former student of his who had never worked on suspension bridges.
Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was started in 1931 and completed in 1937. At the dedication there was no mention of Charles Ellis as the principal designer and engineer of the project.
Ellis went into private practice as a consulting engineer, and in 1934 accepted a faculty position at Purdue University as Professor of Structural Engineering. He retired from Purdue in 1946, and he died in Chicago in 1949.
In 2012, at the 75th anniversary of the bridge opening, the American Society of Civil Engineers placed a plaque on the south tower recognizing his work. They also declared the bridge to be one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World.” The archivist of Purdue University, where his papers are held, has written that Charles Alton Ellis “almost single-handedly” designed the Golden Gate Bridge. Charles Ellis claimed that he knew "every nut and bolt of the darn thing."
Not bad for a kid from Parkman, Maine.