How San Francisco Paid The Ransome—Or: “So, You Found A Rebar…”

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Before 1884, and before Ernest L. Ransome’s invention and innovation of the deformed rod, reinforcing steel was typically smooth round steel rods. This practice was not successful because tension within the concrete would break the bond between the round rods and the concrete. Even bending "J" hooks at the ends of the rods was inadequate.

Mr. Ransome’s invention and innovation was to twist square rods, creating spiraling ridges which prevented tension from pulling the rods loose in the concrete.

During a presentation of his system to the technical society in California, Ransome was literally "laughed down" and out of town. "When you deform the steel you destroy its strength", they jeered. When he proved that cold deformation actually strengthened the steel, his peers ignored him, one professor accusing him of rigging the results.

Mr. Ransome stuck around San Francisco long enough to build a bridge or two, a few exquisite structures at the Stanford campus and then deemed it best to take his show east where his methods were accepted. Some ten years after his departure the San Francisco earthquake and fires of April 18, 1906 destroyed the nay-sayers’ buildings and left the works of Mr. Ransome nearly unscathed. (So much for peer review, which too often is the squawking of jealous jaybirds.)

Wikipedia reports: "…Ransome’s two experimental buildings at Stanford survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake essentially without damage while the university’s newer, conventional brick structures literally crumbled around them. The published analysis of (the Ransome) buildings by fellow engineer John B. Leonard did much to advance the safety of buildings in post-1906 San Francisco and nationwide."

These events also brought on a flood of competition, eventually leading to the improved design of rebar as we know it today. However, Ransome’s twisted rebars were still in use until 1950.

We’ll analyze some other patent dates, but patent dates are like finding an old penny: the only thing that the date tells you is that the strata the object was found in cannot be any older than that date, but the strata most certainly will be newer.

A better way to analyze the dates of rebar is to look at the crumbling highway bridges in your area. According to the plaque attached to it, the Chief Timothy Bridge, about 5 miles west of Clarkston, Washington, was built in 1923. The enlarged photos of a rebar exposed due to spalling apparently show a Corrugated Rebar patented in 1911. The Corrugated Rebar obviously was available in this area in 1923.

Not that you can jump up and down and declare that the Corrugated rebar you found marking a property corner was placed there in 1911 or 1923, but when the original plat of 1953 says that the surveyor set ½" iron rebars at all lot corners and the few rebars that you find are of the Corrugated brand, you can more intelligently, and convincingly assert that what you have found is the original monument. This would especially be true, as in our area, where the corrugated style, with its broad lengthwise rib, is quite rare.

Once the present becomes the past, reality often becomes a work of perception, and this is most applicable in the workings of a jury.

Following are vintage designs that surveyors might encounter. (These are detailed in Chapter 2 of Vintage Steel Reinforcement in Concrete Structures by CRSI):

• Diamond Bar, also called the Mueser Bar because it was patented by William Mueser March 20, 1906, Pat. #816,618. Manufactured by the Concrete Steel Engineering Co. in New York, New York. Bethlehem Steel rolled this pattern until they went out of business in the 1970s.

• Corrugated Bars, also known as Johnson Bars after Albert L. Johnson who patented his invention on January 24, 1911, receiving Pat. #982,682. It was manufactured in St. Louis Missouri and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Notice the thick length-wise rib.

• American Deformed Bar manufactured in Chicago Illinois by Concrete Construction.

• Rib Bars. These were produced in Detroit Michigan and Youngstown Ohio by the Trussed Concrete Steel Company, also called the Truscon Steel Company.

How can the foregoing affect our perspective about surveying? The small print of a local 1928 subdivision plat reads that the original surveyor set "½ iron pins". Some surveyors would declare that those pins could not possibly be rebars; "therefore any found rebars are not original monuments". Wrong!

Incidentally, the locks of the 1911-1914 Panama Canal were built using Mr. Ransome’s twisted rebar and methods, and those locks are considered by many the greatest and most enduring concrete structures in history, rivaling and surpassing current efforts.

So, you found a rebar. Hold it fast, it is more than just a trinket of the industrial world, it may very well represent a survey effort from the early 1900’s.

So many years surveying! So for us four-wheelers are now a necessity, not an option. After 46 years of surveying we are the standard of practice, at least in our area, but every young gun-slinger who comes to town wants to shoot us down with their new definition of surveying.

Once the present becomes the past, perception is often reality—or "So Much for Public Opinion"

The story is repeated on pages 104-106 in a 2011 Doctrinal thesis by Finnian O’Cionnaith*, of a 1750’s dispute between two Irish surveyors, a Mr. K__y and a Mr. Joshua Wright. Mr. K__y’s work is being disputed by Mr. Wright because Mr. K__y used "inflexible numbers" to determine the acreage of a field. Mr. K__y acknowledged that he used DMD (double meridian distance) to determine the acreage but Mr. Wright expounds that DMD was inappropriate because everyone knows that paper is flat but the ground is "ruff".

We modern surveyors know that DMD is the appropriate method of determining area because all measurements for that method are to be taken on the level. DMD is probably the formula used in all our current Survey Pro programs (how would we know). Mr. Wright, who was really Mr. Wrong, Image #theb1644, NOAA’s Historic Coast & Geodetic Survey convinced his clients (rent- Collection. 1850 ca. ers) that his slope-distance methods were correct. Even the Landlord came around and asked Mr. Wrong to use his methods in settling the boundary disputes. In their eyes, Mr. Wrong’s slope methods represented reality.

So much for review by Public Opinion. By what standard should a surveyor measure himself? We propose Daniel Boone’s "Make sure that you are right, and then go ahead," combined with Mr. Ernest L. Ransome’s undaunted courage.

*Land Surveying In Eighteenth And Early Nineteenth-Centruy Dublin, by Finnian O’Cionnaith wherein is quoted the Diary of Joshua Wright, Surveyor of Cork, Ireland, Sept. 25, 1754. Thesis for the degree of Ph.D., Dept. of History, National University of Ireland Maynooth.

A 2.982Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE