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MG George Washington Goethals

MG George Washington Goethals

Birth
Brooklyn, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, USA
Death 21 Jan 1928 (aged 69)
New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Burial West Point, Orange County, New York, USA
Plot Section 18, Row G, Grave 82
Memorial ID 399 · View Source
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United States Army Major General. He is most remembered as being the Chief Engineer in the construction of the Panama Canal, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, and Governor of the Canal Zone. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he attended the City College of New York, then applied for the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating second in the Class of 1880. Selecting the Corps of Engineers as his branch, he served as Assistant Professor of Engineering at West Point from 1885 to 1888, and worked in the office of the Chief of Engineers in Washington DC, from 1894 to 1898. From 1887 to 1889, he supervised the construction of the canal, locks and dams of the Muscle Shoals canal on the Tennessee River, a project that gave him invaluable experience in constructing canals. A Colonel by April 1907, he was appointed the Chief Engineer (third and last person to hold the title) and Chairman of the Panama Isthmian Canal Commission, when civilian John Frank Stevens, then Chief Engineer, quit the position over political interference and his lack of experience in canal building, to return to his former occupation in railroads. Stevens had performed exceptionally well in historical retrospect; he oversaw the change in design from a sea level canal to a lock and step canal, figured out how to avoid large digging requirements by damming the Chagres River to create a lake over half of the route, cleaned up the environment and hygiene in the Canal Zone and parts of Panama, and then planning and seeing to the most difficult part: the digging of the Gaillard Cut, then the largest excavation of its time. Stevens had been under criticism for not doing more on the canal first, spending his initial efforts at cleaning up Panama and making it a safe working environment in the tropics by improving sanitation and ending the numerous tropical diseases; factors all of which had combined to defeat the French effort at building the Panama Canal back in the 1880 to 1895 period. After Stevens quit, President Theodore Roosevelt stated, "I am appointing a military man, because he can't quit." Colonel Goethals overcame both man and nature in constructing the Panama Canal, working against constant interference by political forces and the efforts of nature, following the basic plan laid out by Stevens. Goethals overcame the many problems of organization, supply, sanitation and health, completing the Panama Canal two years ahead of schedule. He also was a visionary, realizing that the locks were the limiting feature of the canal passage, so he built the locks twice the width of the largest ship of 1914; this enabled the Panama Canal to still accommodate ships even up to today, although the largest ships today cannot fit through the locks (he actually wanted to build the locks three times the size, but couldn't because critics complained that he was building the locks unnecessarily large and wasting money; even so, these were the largest locks ever built in its day). When the Canal opened in 1914, he served as Governor of the Canal Zone from 1914 to 1916, being promoted to Major General and receiving the Thanks of Congress on March 4, 1915. He retired in 1916, but returned to active duty in 1917, to be appointed the Assistant Chief of Staff and Director of Purchases, Stores and Traffic during World War I, for which he received the Distinguished Service Medal at keeping supplies going to the American forces in that war. After his second retirement in 1919, he established a firm of consulting engineers, and developed the inner harbor of New Orleans, and the Columbia Basin irrigation project. General Goethals also served as chief consulting engineer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In his later years, he received numerous honors, degrees, medals and society awards for his dedication to Engineering and service to the country. The Goethals Bridge, spanning from New Jersey to Staten Island, was named in his honor.

Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 399
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for MG George Washington Goethals (29 Jun 1858–21 Jan 1928), Find A Grave Memorial no. 399, citing United States Military Academy Post Cemetery, West Point, Orange County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .