John Benjamin Henck

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John Benjamin Henck (October 20, 1815 Philadelphia – January 3, 1903 Montecito, California) was a classical scholar and civil engineer.


Henck was the son of George Daniel and Caroline (Spiess) Henck. He was prepared for college mainly by home study, and graduated from Harvard University, valedictorian, in 1840. He was principal of Hopkins Classical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1840-1841, professor of Latin and Greek at the University of Maryland, 1841-1842, and professor of Latin and Greek at Germantown Academy, Philadelphia, where he remained until 1847.

The need to provide for a growing family prompted him to turn his attention to the more lucrative field of civil engineering.[1] He began by studying in the office of Felton and Parker, Charlestown, Massachusetts. From 1848 to 1849, he had charge of the building of a railroad from Charlestown, New Hampshire, to Windsor, Vermont. In 1849 he was in charge of the construction of the Fitchburg Railroad[1] near Boston, after which he established an office in Boston with William S. Whitwell (Whitwell & Henck)[1] and was frequently called upon as an expert to decide on the work of others.

He was appointed engineer to the Massachusetts State Commission on Public Lands, and continued in that position, with an interruption of two or three years, until 1881. (In 1877, the State Commission on Public Lands was abolished and its tasks became those of the Massachusetts Board of Land Commissioners.[2]) He had charge of the laying out and filling up of new lands of the state of Massachusetts and Boston Water Power Company, now known as the Back Bay district in Boston. He was probably the engineer with the most responsibility for that project.[1]

When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began offering classes in 1865, he was the head of the department of civil engineering, a post he retained until 1881.[3] But meanwhile he continued his oversight of the laying out of streets and lots in the Back Bay. He was engineer for the Metropolitan and other street railroads in Boston and vicinity, 1856-1861.


He wrote numerous poems, mathematical papers, and a Field-Book for Railroad Engineers (1854; revised and enlarged, 1881 and 1896).


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Frank A. Taylor (1932). "Henck, John Benjamin". Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. William A. Newman and Wilfred E. Holton (2006). Boston's Back Bay: The Story of America's Greatest Nineteenth-Century Landfill Project. Boston: Northeastern University Press. p. 72.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "History". MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Retrieved June 2, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1892). [ "Henck, John Benjamin" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Johnson, Rossiter; Brown, John Howard, eds. (1904). "Henck, John Benjamin". The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Biographical Society.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • "Death notice". The Harvard Graduates' Magazine. Harvard Graduates' Magazine Association. 11: 483. 1903.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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