Of course, the internet is beginning to diminish these difficulties. I've been aware for a while that Google Books contains scanned versions of several key books of interest, which can be read online or downloaded as PDFs. These include:
- Charles Stewart Drewry's "A Memoir of Suspension Bridges" (1832)
- Samuel Smiles' "Lives of the Engineers" (1862)
- James Finley's "Description of the patent chain bridge" (in the Port Folio, 1810)
- Thomas Pope's "A Treatise on Bridge Architecture" (1811)
There are dozens of others, many of them great early documents of the pioneering 19th century.
I was unaware until very recently that bibliophiles can get much of the same material in print, thanks to Kessinger Publishing and the University of Michigan's Scholarly Publishing Office. In addition to some of the titles mentioned above, you can find otherwise long out-of-print books by David Steinman, John Roebling, Squire Whipple and many others. Several are unavailable through Google. They can be ordered either through the publishers or through Amazon.
Great for the happy pontist's bridges bookshelf; very, very bad for his wallet.