Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Goethals, George Washington

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GOETHALS, GEORGE WASHINGTON, an American engineer; born at Brooklyn, N. Y., June 29, 1858; received his collegiate training at the College of the City of New York, and entered the United States Military Academy in 1876. Upon his graduation in 1880, he was appointed second lieutenant in the Engineer Corps. From which rank he continued to rise, until, in 1909, he became colonel, and in 1916 retired with the rank of Major-general. He saw service in the Spanish-American War as lieutenant Colonel and chief of engineers of the United States Volunteers. Previous to this, he had acted as assistant professor of military engineering at West Point from 1885 to 1887, and had been engineer in charge of the important Mussel Shoals canal construction on the Tennessee river in 1888. In recognition of his ability he was appointed to membership on the Board of Fortifications and, in 1903, was made a member of the general staff. After President Roosevelt had decided to undertake the construction of the Panama Canal (q. v.), as a government operation entirely, he appointed Colonel Goethals chairman and chief engineer of a new commission made up of army and navy technical experts, which superseded the former civilian commission. Colonel Goethals brought to the work a wide familiarity with the conduct of government engineering operations, a practical knowledge of large scale supervisory and administrative engineering, plus a thorough technical and theoretical equipment. Under his leadership the business of building the canal quickly assumed a systematic, efficient aspect which permeated every division of the great work. The giant problems of machinery, excavation, labor control, sanitation, developed a harmony of organized effort under his control. Intrusted with wide executive powers, Colonel Goethals succeeded in eliminating points of friction which had so largely delayed progress on the work previous to his appointment. In his selection of assistants he exhibited that rare administrative insight which justified his appointment. The social and sanitary problems were satisfactorily solved under the direction of Gen. William C. Gorgas, and the total result was a degree of industrial efficiency which astonished the engineering world, and which made the completion of the canal a practical actuality by 1914.

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Highly honored for his services to the world, Colonel Goethals received recognition from the University of Pennsylvania which, in 1913, conferred the degree of LL.D. upon him. In 1914 the Civic Forum of New York, the National Institute of Social Sciences, and the National Geographic Society awarded him medals.

After declining the office of Police Commissioner of New York City, offered to him by Mayor Mitchel, and refusing the position of City Manager of Dayton, O., he accepted the office of Civil Governor of the Canal Zone in 1914. He resigned as Governor of Canal Zone in 1916. During the World War he was a member of the Shipping Board and adviser to the Secretary of War and the Council of National Defense. Upon the conclusion of peace he retired to private life as a consulting engineer.