Heinrich Meissner was the steady hand at the helm of the vast project to build the Hejaz Railway. At the beginning of the construction in 1900, the post of Chief Engineer had been given to an Italian, Signor Labella. However, at the end of the first year's work, his contract was terminated in favour of Meissner. The experienced German railway engineer quickly became the driving force behind the successful completion of the railway to Medina.
Meissner was born in Germany in 1862 and studied civil engineering at the Technical College of Dresden, with a particular interest in railway construction.He moved to Turkey in 1887 and was engaged on the Izmir to Ankara line. Meissner gained valuable experience on a number of railway projects in the Ottoman Empire.
A reputation for efficiency, together with his ability in Turkish, led to Meissner being engaged on the Hejaz Railway. After his promotion to Chief Engineer, he established an excellent working relationship with Kazim Pasha, the Ottoman Director of Construction. For his central role in the project, Meissner was awarded the rank of Pasha. The British military attaché Lt. Col. Maunsell wrote: 'Meissner has studied with the greatest care the Turkish character and always displays excellent tact in managing his superiors.'
Following his work on the Hejaz Railway, Meissner was given an engineering post on the Baghdad Railway, which had strong links to Germany. Meissner's first engagement was on the Aleppo section in northern Syria. In 1911, he was transferred to Baghdad. The line was only completed in 1940, several months after his death.
Bridge Building on the Baghdad Railway Meissner in later life
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Meissner returned to the region to help develop the Ottoman's strategic rail network in Palestine, extending the Hejaz Railway's Haifa-Deraa line as far south as Beersheba, close to the Egyptian border. Although Meissner returned to Germany at the end of the war, he was invited back to the newly formed Republic of Turkey by President Atatürk in 1924, where he worked on the rail network. He remained in Turkey until his death in January 1940 and is buried in Istanbul.