February 22, 2023
Archie Alexander was extremely passionate about his profession. Driven by his ambition, he started working as a foreman for Marsh Engineering Company, based in Des Moines, Iowa. The firm specialized in the design and construction of bridges. Determined to pave his own way, his entrepreneurial spirit resulted in him founding his own engineering company, A.A. Alexander, Inc., at the young age of 26. His company operated as a general contracting company with a focus on concrete and steel bridges. Not only did he operate one of the most successful engineering firms in the area, but he was also a partner in what was a rarity: an interracial company.
Alexander grew up in Ottumwa, Iowa, and his journey to becoming a civil engineer was not an easy one. After enrolling at the University of Iowa to study engineering, he stood out as the only Black student attending. He went on to become the first African American student to graduate from the University’s engineering program in 1912, where he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering.
As a structural engineer, he designed several major projects throughout the country. His firm had offices in Washington, D.C., when it began to receive major contracts for that area. Included in these were the Tidal Basin Bridge and sea wall, completed in 1943. The K Street elevated highway was another project handled by his firm. But perhaps the largest project was the $3.3 million Whitehurst Freeway, which took two years to complete and employed about two hundred workers.
Alexander let it be known that he wanted to be judged by his work and not by his color. Being Black in a predominantly white business field did not hamper his goal of success.
Given Alexander’s tremendous success and determination, it’s no wonder that he was later awarded an honorary master’s degree from the University of Iowa and an honorary Doctor of Engineering from Howard University. Though his accolades are to be celebrated, it was his determination and refusal to surrender his passion in the face of society’s prejudice that made him an engineering hero.
Sources: BET.org; ice.org/uk