Lindenthal began training as a mason and carpenter at the age of 16. Two years later, he left for Vienna, becoming an assistant in the Empress Elisabeth Railway of Austria's engineering department. While working in Vienna, he attended some engineering lectures that were open to the public, but never actually attended university or obtained a degree. He was for all intents and purposes a self taught bridge engineer.
Lindenthal's lack of formal education hampered his successes in Europe, and he decided to move to the US in 1874. His first employment was as a journeyman stonemason for the memorial granite building work the Centennial International Exhibition, which was in Philadelphia. He then began working for the Keystone Bridge Company of Pittsburgh, for three years. It was this employment that gave him the status of "bridge engineer."
In 1881, he created his own consulting business, and continued to build bridges in the Pittsburgh area. Three years later, he founded the North River Bridge Company, in New York. This business was intended to oversee the building of a bridge for the Pennsylvania Railroad over the Hudson River. No such bridge was ever built, as the Pennsylvania Railroad decided upon tunnels under the river instead. The Penn. Railroad hired North River Bridge Company in 1904 to work on the New York Connecting Railroad, and specifically to build the bridge over the East River at a point called Hell Gate.
Just prior to working on the Hell Gate Bridge, Lindenthal had been appointed Commissioner of Bridges, by the City of New York. In addition to the Hell Gate Bridge, he worked on a number of other East River Crossings, and directed the Queensboro Bridge. The Hell Gate Bridge, (originally known as the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge or The East River Arch Bridge, is a 1,017 foot, steel through arch railroad bridge, connecting Astoria Queens, and the Bronx, over the East River. The Bridge also passes over Randall's/Ward's Island, making it a second "Triborough Bridge" (the other being the recently renamed Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, which runs parallel to the Hells Gate Bridge. The bridge is considered an inspiration for the design of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in New South Wales, Australia, and Discover magazine estimates that if humans disappeared, the Hell Gate Bridge would disappear after at least one millennium, or roughly 700 years after most other bridges would have already fallen. The bridge is still in use.
Lindenthal, proposed the first bridge across the Hudson River in 1920, it was to be a suspension bridge at 57th Street in Manhattan, however neither the City, nor the railroads liked the project. Later, Othmar Ammann, a colleague of Lindenthal, proposed a smaller version, the George Washington Bridge. He also worked on some other bridges around the country. He continued to act as president and chief engineer of the North River Bridge Company, until his death.
On July 31, 1935, after long illness, Lindenthal died in Metuchen, New Jersey at 85 years old.