This was partly necessary to meet the uncertain conditions in floating when the distribution of supporting forces was unknown and there were chances of distortion.

Fig. 16.  Britannia Bridge. Fig. 16. - Britannia Bridge. Fig. 17.  Britannia Bridge (Cross Section of Tubular Girder). Fig. 17. - Britannia Bridge (Cross Section of Tubular Girder).

Wrought iron and, later, steel plate web girders were largely used for railway bridges in England after the construction of the Conway and Menai bridges, and it was in the discussions arising during their design that the proper function of the vertical web between the top and bottom flanges of a girder first came to be understood. The proportion of depth to span in the Britannia bridge was 1/16. But so far as the flanges are concerned the stress to be resisted varies inversely as the depth of the girder. It would be economical, therefore, to make the girder very deep. This, however, involves a much heavier web, and therefore for any type of girder there must be a ratio of depth to span which is most economical. In the case of the plate web there must be a considerable excess of material, partly to stiffen it against buckling and partly because an excess of thickness must be provided to reduce the effect of corrosion. It was soon found that with plate webs the ratio of depth to span could not be economically increased beyond 1/15 to 1/12. On the other hand a framed or braced web afforded opportunity for much better arrangement of material, and it very soon became apparent that open web or lattice or braced girders were more economical of material than solid web girders, except for small spans.

In America such girders were used from the first and naturally followed the general design of the earlier timber bridges. Now plate web girders are only used for spans of less than 100 ft.

Three types of bracing for the web very early developed - the Warren type in which the bracing bars form equilateral triangles, the Whipple Murphy in which the struts are vertical and the ties inclined, and the lattice in which both struts and ties are inclined at equal angles, usually 45° with the horizontal. The earliest published theoretical investigations of the stresses in bracing bars were perhaps those in the paper by W.T. Doyne and W.B. Blood (Proc. Inst. C.E., 1851, xi. p. 1), and the paper by J. Barton, "On the economic distribution of material in the sides of wrought iron beams" (Proc. Inst. C.E., 1855, xiv. p. 443).

Fig. 18.  Span of Saltash Bridge. Fig. 18. - Span of Saltash Bridge.

The Boyne bridge, constructed by Barton in Ireland, in 1854-1855, was a remarkable example of the confidence with which engineers began to apply theory in design. It was a bridge for two lines of railway with lattice girders continuous over three spans. The centre span was 264 ft., and the side spans 138 ft. 8 in.; depth 22 ft. 6 in. Not only were the bracing bars designed to calculated stresses, and the continuity of the girders taken into account, but the validity of the calculations was tested by a verification on the actual bridge of the position of the points of contrary flexure of the centre span. At the calculated position of one of the points of contrary flexure all the rivets of the top boom were cut out, and by lowering the end of the girder over the side span one inch, the joint was opened 1/32 in. Then the rivets were cut out similarly at the other point of contrary flexure and the joint opened. The girder held its position with both joints severed, proving that, as should be the case, there was no stress in the boom where the bending moment changes sign.

Fig. 19.  Newark Dyke Bridge. Fig. 19. - Newark Dyke Bridge and Section of Newark Dyke Bridge.

By curving the top boom of a girder to form an arch and the bottom boom to form a suspension chain, the need of web except for non-uniform loading is obviated. I.K. Brunel adopted this principle for the Saltash bridge near Plymouth, built soon after the Britannia bridge. It has two spans of 455 ft. and seventeen smaller spans, the roadway being 100 ft. above high water. The top boom of each girder is an elliptical wrought iron tube 17 ft. wide by 12 ft. deep. The lower boom is a pair of chains, of wrought-iron links, 14 in each chain, of 7 in. by 1 in. section, the links being connected by pins. The suspending rods and cross bracing are very light. The depth of the girder at the centre is about one-eighth of the span.

Fig. 20.  Fink Truss. Fig. 20. - Fink Truss.

In both England and America in early braced bridges cast iron, generally in the form of tubes circular or octagonal in section, was used for compression members, and wrought iron for the tension members. Fig. 19 shows the Newark Dyke bridge on the Great Northern railway over the Trent. It was a pin-jointed Warren girder bridge erected from designs by C.M. Wild in 1851-1853. The span between supports was 259 ft., the clear span 240½ ft.; depth between joint pins 16 ft. There were four girders, two to each line of way. The top flange consisted of cast iron hollow castings butted end to end, and the struts were of cast iron. The lower flange and ties were flat wrought iron links. This bridge has now been replaced by a stronger bridge to carry the greater loads imposed by modern traffic. Fig. 20 shows a Fink truss, a characteristic early American type, with cast iron compression and wrought iron tension members. The bridge is a deck bridge, the railway being carried on top. The transfer of the loads to the ends of the bridge by long ties is uneconomical, and this type has disappeared. The Warren type, either with two sets of bracing bars or with intermediate verticals, affords convenient means of supporting the floor girders.