March’s Engineer Moment in History

MG Goethals

George W. Goethals photographed as a Major General.

Provided by the U.S. Army Engineer School Historian

After the French failed to construct a canal across Central America to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Americans took over this herculean project in 1904. The first American chief engineers were civilians who cracked under the strain of work and political pressure and soon resigned. By March 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt needed someone he could count on.  He declared, “I’m going to give it to the Army and to someone who can’t quit.”  The president found the right man for the job – LTC George W. Goethals.  He brought more than two decades of experience in the Corps of Engineers to his new job.  Goethals worked tirelessly to streamline workflow, end corruption, and find solutions to severe environmental problems.  He directed construction of the fifty-one-mile-long Panama Canal until it was opened in 1914. Later, during the First World War, MG Goethals put his superb managerial and leadership skills to use as the U.S. Army’s Assistant Chief of Staff and Director of Purchases, Stores, and Traffic.  He directed the logistical effort to supply more than one million American Soldiers deploying to Europe.

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