15 Feb 2021

Royal HaskoningDHV has commissioned a special series of articles which delve into our archives and reveal some of the key moments that continue to shape our company. Sometimes our investigations revealed a few surprises.

After the  introduction to Johan van Hasselt and Jacobus de Koning, the engineers who set up the first independent engineering firm in the Netherlands in 1881, we follow De Koning as he travelled to Egypt on his own in 1889. Egypt's rail network was being expanded, and he was determined to create the winning design for a railway bridge across the Nile.

De Koning in Egypt (sources: Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde/Company archives Royal HaskoningDHV)

Royal HaskoningDHV’s association with the Embabeh bridge has long been part of company legend but historical research has shown that the truth is a little more complex.
“This new research has brought to light that the design of the current Embabeh bridge, still in operation today, has been mistakenly attributed to De Koning,” says CEO Erik Oostwegel, the driving force behind this project initiated to celebrate 140 years of operation. “Meaning we need to rethink a story that has been circulating in our offices for years!”
Contrary to long held beliefs, the bridge design by De Koning didn’t win the tender competition. Oostwegel continues: “Although he handed in a very good design, the tender was won by a French competitor instead.”

Drawing (fragment) submitted for the entire bridge of 540 metres in length, with four spans of 119.5 metres each – fixed sections – and a swing bridge section with a length of 50 metres. The overall width of the bridge would be 14 metres. (source: Company archives Royal HaskoningDHV) 

Where did the mistake come from? In this new story the following emerges: “After the initial strengthening in 1898, the bridge was replaced completely in 1920, because the weight of (rail) traffic had increased significantly over the years. This new, stronger Embabeh bridge looked a lot more like the design submitted by De Koning than the lightweight French-built version of 1892. This might explain why a previous company history described the new Embabeh bridge as being a piece of Royal HaskoningDHV heritage - erroneously, as would appear from the above.”

Oostwegel ends: “Although taken by surprise, I console myself with the thought that the resemblance of the rebuilt Embabeh bridge to the design handed in by De Koning nearly 30 years previously, proves once again that our founding father was way ahead of his time. That still fills me with pride!”



About celebrating 140 years in striking stories

This year we celebrate the 140th anniversary of Royal HaskoningDHV. It is a story that began in 1881 in Nijmegen, when two enterprising engineers, Johan van Hasselt and Jacobus de Koning overturned convention and started an independent engineering firm together. We are proud of our striking history and don't want to let this anniversary go unnoticed.


Read the story: