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date: 25 February 2021

Sayre, Robert Heyshamlocked

(13 October 1824–05 January 1907)
  • W. Ross Yates


Sayre, Robert Heysham (13 October 1824–05 January 1907), civil engineer and railroad executive, was born in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, the son of William H. Sayre and Eliza Kent. His father was employed by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, which had built and was operating the Lehigh Canal from Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) to Easton, Pennsylvania. Robert attended public schools in Mauch Chunk and for a time studied civil engineering under James Nowlin, a mathematician. Most of his training in engineering, however, came from on-the-job experience. In 1840 he helped to enlarge the Morris Canal in New Jersey and in 1843 began working for the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company under his father’s direction. Sayre was active in building the company’s Switchback Railroad, a pioneer road carrying coal by gravity from Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk, and the inclined plane or “back track” by which the empty cars were returned to the mines. “Alias Back Track” was the way he signed a letter to a friend in 1845. The company gave him the responsibility for building, maintaining, and operating all of its railroads and inclined planes in and about the mines....

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