Colonel George Washington Goethals
from The Panama Canal Review, August 15, 1969


After John F. Stevens - Engineer and basic architect of the Canal, resigned in March 1907 ... President Roosevelt decided to put someone in the job who would stay for as long as Roosevelt wanted. The man he chose was Lt. Colonel George W. Goethals of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Born in Brooklyn in 1858, he was the son of Belgian immigrants. Goethals was such a promising student that his principal in the public school he attended, urged his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. Goethals graduated second in his class and completed a special course in engineering. He thus began a rapid rise thru the ranks and was soon considered to be the brains of the General Staff. Therefore, in 1907, when President Roosevelt asked the Secretary of War to nominate a man to take charge of the work at Panama, the selection was instant... Goethals was chosen.

Known as "The Colonel" ... he was at his desk at Culebra until 11:00PM nearly every night. His days began at 7:00AM and he was out on the job all morning and part of the afternoons dashing from place to place in the "Yellow Peril," as his railcar was known.

A crane operator once remarked "Few men could have stood the amount of work he put on himself. Men broke down; men went crazy; men took to drink. The colonel kept as keen as a brier."

On Sundays he held court in his office. Any man could see him personally on that day. Women came to settle their toubles. Just when it looked as though the long drudgery of building the Canal was nearly finished, a major slide occurred at Cucaracha in 1913. Many of the engineers were ready to give it all up. Colonel Goethals was summoned hurriedly to the scene .... "What are we going to do now?" ... he was asked. He calmly looked over the scene, lighted a cigarette and replied ... "Hell, dig it out again." That was his only reply.


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Last Update:  October 15, 1998

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