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George Washington Goethals
Personal information
Nationality American
Birth date June 29, 1858(1858-06-29)
Birth place Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Date of death January 21, 1928 (aged 69)
Place of death New York City, U.S.
Education United States Military Academy
Work
Significant projects Panama Canal

George Washington Goethals (pronounced gō-thülz; June 29, 1858 – January 21, 1928) was a United States Army officer and civil engineer, best known for his supervision of construction and the opening of the Panama Canal. The Goethals Bridge between Staten Island, New York City and Elizabeth, New Jersey is named in his honor, as is the Goethals Medal.

Contents

Biography

Goethals was born in Brooklyn, New York to Flemish (Stekene-Flanders-Belgium) immigrants[1][2] Johannes Baptista (John Louis) Goethals, a carpenter, and wife Marie Le Barron. Aged 14, he entered the College of the City of New York. In April 1876, after three years of college, he won a cadetship to the United States Military Academy at West Point. There, he was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity. He graduated second in his class in 1880, a distinction that led that year to a commission as second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers.

Goethals remained at the military academy during the summer and fall of 1880 as an assistant instructor in practical astronomy. In 1881 he attended the Engineer School of Application at Willets Point, New York. His first field assignment came in the following year with his appointment as engineer officer of the Department of Columbia in Vancouver, Washington. His routine duties included reconnaissance, surveys, and astronomical work, while his most consequential project was the replacement of a 120-foot bridge across the Spokane River.

In September 1884 he transferred to Cincinnati, Ohio, as an assistant to Lieutenant Colonel William E. Merrill, who was in charge of the navigational improvements of the Ohio River. Goethals worked his way up from rodman on the hydrographic surveys to foreman of concrete work and, finally, to chief of construction. Also in 1884 he married Effie Rodman; they had two children. From 1885 to 1889 he taught civil and military engineering at West Point. He returned to the field in 1889 to assist Colonel John W. Barlow with navigational improvements on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. While an instructor at West Point Goethals agreed to tutor Charles Young who graduated in 1889 after being reexamined in engineering[3]

In 1891 Goethals was promoted to captain and placed in charge of the completion of the Muscle Shoals Canal along the Tennessee River near Chattanooga. This was his first independent command, and his responsibilities included the design and construction of the Riverton Lock at Colbert Shoals. Goethals's recommendation of a single lock with an unprecedented lift of twenty-six feet was initially opposed by his superiors in Washington, and he was forced to persuade the conservative army engineers of the merits of his design. The success of the Riverton Lock inspired the eventual adoption of high-lift locks elsewhere, including those for the Panama Canal.

During the Spanish-American War he was lieutenant colonel and chief of engineers of United States Volunteers. In 1907 US President Theodore Roosevelt appointed George Washington Goethals chief engineer of the Panama Canal. The building of the Canal was completed in 1914, one year ahead of the target date of June 1, 1916.

Colonel Goethals received unstinted praise from visiting engineers and from the technical press of the entire civilized world. In 1913 the degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by the University of Pennsylvania, and in the spring of 1914 he was awarded medals by the National Geographic Society, the Civic Forum (New York), and the National Institute of Social Sciences. President Wilson appointed him the first Civil Governor of the Panama Canal Zone.

He resigned from the post of Governor of the Canal Zone in 1916 and was made chairman of the board of inquiry in regard to the Adamson eight-hour law. His positions thereafter were: State engineer of New Jersey in 1917, manager of the Emergency Fleet Corporation (briefly), acting quartermaster of the United States Army, and a member of the War Industries Board (1918). In 1919, he requested his release from his active service. Later on, he headed an engineering and construction firm. He became the first consulting engineer of the Port of New York Authority (now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey), and the Goethals Bridge, one of the authority's bridges between New York and New Jersey, was named for him. He died in New York City.

He is the great-great-grandfather of actress Angela Goethals.

In World War II the United States liberty ship SS G. W. Goethals was named in his honor. He has one street named for him in the city of Richland, Washington. Another one named Goethals Avenue in Queens, New York City at St John's University

Trivia

In the play and film Arsenic and Old Lace, the character Teddy Brewster mistakes Dr. Einstein for Goethals, inviting him to inspect a new canal.

See also

References

Preceded by
Military Governor Richard Lee Metcalfe
Governor of Panama Canal Zone
1914–1917
Succeeded by
Chester Harding (governor)
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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

"GEORGE WASHINGTON GOETHALS (1858-), American army engineer, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., June 29 1858. He entered the College of the City of New York in 1876, but at the end of three years went to West Point, where he graduated in 1880, receiving a commission as second lieutenant of engineers. In 1882 he became first lieutenant and was stationed at Cincinnati, where he was engaged in improving the channel of the Ohio river. Later he taught engineering at West Point for several years, but returned to Cincinnati in 1889. Afterwards he was in charge of the construction of the Muscle Shoals Canal on the Tennessee river and of another canal near Chattanooga, Tenn. In 1891 he was made captain. On the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898 he was commissioned lieutenantcolonel of volunteers and appointed chief engineer of the First Army Corps. In 1900 he was commissioned major in the regular army and three years later was engaged in planning fortifications in the neighbourhood of Newport, R.I. He was then made a member of the General Staff in Washington, and in 1905 graduated from the Army War College. In 1907 he was appointed by President Roosevelt a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and soon afterwards was made its chairman and chief engineer. Two years later he was promoted colonel. His arrival in Panama marked a new era in the construction of the canal. Hitherto the work had been in charge of high-salaried civilian engineers who dwelt at a distance. The work, as reorganized, was directed by army engineers subject to the control of the President of the United States. Several changes of plan, such as widening the canal, were now inaugurated. Col. Goethals favoured the lock form of canal, chosen by Congress in 1906, instead of the sealevel type. There was considerable opposition to his view but a special commission after inspection gave him support. He took up his abode on the spot, came into close contact with the labourers, won their admiration and confidence, and after seven years' labour brought his task to a successful issue. On May 15 1914 the canal was officially opened to barges, and on Aug. 15 following was declared open to world commerce. Col. Goethals was appointed the first civil governor of the Canal Zone by President Wilson in 1914 and the following year was made major-general. He favoured complete sovereignty of the United States over the Canal Zone. He resigned the governorship in 1916 and was appointed chairman of the board constituted to report on the Adamson Eight-Hour law. In 1917 he was appointed state engineer of New Jersey, but after America's entrance into the World War he was released to serve as manager of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. He had little faith in the plan for a wooden fleet and after three months resigned. Toward the close of 1917 he was appointed acting quartermaster-general, U.S. Army, and his " especially meritorious and conspicuous service " brought him the D.S.M. the following year. I.n 1918 he was appointed chief of the division of purchase, storage and traffic, and he was also a member of the War Industries Board. At his request he was relieved from active service in March 1919. He subsequently became the head of a business organization engaged in engineering and construction work.


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