Cornelius L. Henderson was a pioneering steel engineer and architect who helped construct two of major crossings between the United States and Canada. Mr. Henderson was involved with the building of both the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.
Born Cornelius Langston Henderson in December 1888 in Detroit, Michigan. The future bridge builder’s father laid down a strong foundation himself. Rev. James M. Henderson was the president of Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Ga., and also president of Payne University in Selma, Ala.
The younger Henderson attended Payne for pre-college courses ahead of attending the University of Michigan. Henderson left the school with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and looked for employment in his hometown. While engineering jobs were plentiful and Henderson showed an aptitude for steel, companies wouldn’t hire him because of his race.
Undeterred, Henderson began working for the Canadian Bridge Company and became one of its top employees. For 47 years, Henderson worked on the previously mentioned projects and several other structures across Canada.
Today, the Ambassador, which was erected in 1929, is the busiest international border crossing in North America. The bridge services the cities of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Like the Ambassador, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel serves the same purpose and is the busiest such border crossing between the nations.
Henderson died in August 1976. His son, Cornelius Jr., also became a civil engineer.