From Laborer To One Of The First Successful Black Contracting Engineers In U.S.: Meet Fredrick Massiah


Born in Barbados, Massiah immigrated to the United States in 1909, where he started as a laborer, working during the day and studying architecture at night. He studied at the Pennsylvania School of the Fine Arts and earned a degree in Civil Engineering at what is now Drexel University. By the early 1920s, he established his own business and was among the first successful Black contracting engineers in the country. He established a construction business during a time when it was almost impossible for Blacks to obtain financing, insurance, and acceptance in trade unions.


His methods of using reinforcements in concrete pre-dated the existence of widespread building codes in the 1920s. By using a combination of concrete and steel acting as a unit, rebar in concrete, high tensile qualities of steel allow concrete to stretch and twist with greater yield strength than concrete that is not reinforced, while helping prevent cracks in the structures from changes of temperature and shrinkage.

His many accomplishments included the elliptical dome of the Ascension of Our Lord Church (the first structure of its kind in the U.S.), the William Donner X-Ray laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Sewage Disposal Plant in Trenton, N.J.

Frederick Massiah was awarded the Harmon Foundation Medal for Engineering in recognition of the outstanding beam and girder work. During a 45-year span of activity stretching into the late 1960s, Massiah was responsible for building many structures. He died on July 7, 1975.


Written by PH

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