The New York Times
January 22, 1928


Builder of Panama Canal and Once Ruler of the Isthmus Succumbs Here at 70.


His Feat Hailed as One of the Greatest in History--West Point Funeral Tuesday.

Major Gen. George Washington Goethals, builder of the Panama Canal and first Civil Governor of the Panama Canal Zone, died yesterday noon in his apartment, 12 East Eighty-sixth Street, at the age of 70.  He had been in ill health from a complication of diseases for eight months, although this was not generally known.  He was unconscious for twenty-four hours before his death.

He will be buried in the army cemetery at West Point, in compliance with his wishes.   The body will rest in the chapel of the Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, 139 West Forty-sixth Street, until it is taken to the old chapel at West Point for military funeral services at 3 o'clock Tuesday afternoon.  The names of the honorary pallbearers and the clergyman who will officiate at the ceremony will be announced today.

His wife and two sons were at his bedside when he died.  His wife, Mrs. Effie Rodman Goethals, is a daughter of the late Captain Thomas R. Rodman of New Bedford, Mass.   Their sons are Colonel George R. Goethals, 41 years old, of Bronxville, an engineer associate with Dwight P. Robinson & Co., Inc., of 125 East Forty-sixth Street, and Dr. Thomas R. Goethals, 37, of Brookline, Mass., a physician attached to the Boston Lying-In Hospital.

Captain William Hones of Headquarters Company, Second Corps Area, Governors Island, representing Major Gen. Hanson E. Ely, commanding the Second Corps area.  He was at the Goethals home yesterday afternoon to present the official regret of the army for General Goethals passing.  Both here and in Washington there were widespread expressions of sorrow at his death.  The building of the Panama Canal, in which General Goethals succeeded after many distinguished American and European engineers had failed, took seven years and is regarded as one of the greatest engineering feats in history.  Four centuries before General Goethals did the work a canal across the Isthmus of Panama had been projected by Balboa and other early Spanish explorers.

First actual work on a canal was begun in 1881 by the Panama Canal Company under the leadership of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French engineer who had built the Suez Canal.  De Lesseps planned to build a sea-level canal without locks at an estimated cost of $128,000,000.  So many unexpected obstacles developed that the de Lesseps project ended in bankruptcy and scandal in 1889, after only a small amount of work had been done.

Several other half-hearted and unsuccessful efforts to complete the Canal were made by private companies and civilian engineers.  These attempts were all based upon plans for a sea-level canal without locks.  After Panama declared itself an independent republic and the United States entered into the treaty with Colombia, President Roosevelt, who favored the lock form of canal, reorganized the entire plan, took the work out of the hands of civilian engineers and put the responsibility upon the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

President Roosevelt let it be known that he was looking for the best equipped officer in the Engineer Corps to head the work, and the choice fell to Goethals, than a Major.   The fact that he had picked Goethals from scores of talented officers of the engineers, and that Goethals had succeeded where so many others had failed, was one of the things of which president Roosevelt was most proud.

The completion of the Panama Canal made General Goethals the most famous engineer who ever wore the uniform of the United States Army, and, next to General Pershing, West Point's best known graduate since the Civil War.  He is the third of three army officers who made the Panama Canal possible to die in recent years.  The others were his subordinates on the Isthmian Canal Commission--Major Gen. William C. Gorgas, the medical officer whose sanitation work eliminated the fevers and other tropical plagues which had hampered construction work, and Colonel David Du Bose Gaillard, who solved the riddle of the Culebra Cut.

Throughout the seven years of construction, until the canal was opened for navigation in 1914, General Goethals directed the job as engineer and administrator.  His intimate knowledge of every detail is still talked about in army circles.  He was chief engineer, Governor, Judge and court of last recourse in the years when he ruled the Isthmus.

There was not a man on the Isthmus--and all men there at the time were Government employes--who could not reach the "chief" if he had a legitimate complaint.   Every laborer, no matter how humble, could get his story to Goethals if right was on his side.  when they wanted to get married they went to the chief and were married.  when they felt they had been wronged they lost no time in appealing to him, and if justice was on their side they were sure to get it.  That is the real reason, say the men who worked with Goethals, that the building of the canal went forward to so splendid a success.

Picked His Men and Knew Them

General Goethals picked his men and he knew them.  What Gaillard directed, as he toiled to shackle the slides that made the Culebra part of the canal so great a problem, was backed by the chief to the limit, and it was the same with regard to Hodges, Sibert and the others who under him, directed the construction.  As for Gorgas, the sanitarian, his word was final.  Goethals knew his subordinates and they knew him.  There never was more perfect teamwork, according to army officers.

Goethals, who favored the lock form of canal, had to overcome much criticism and opposition before he could abandon the sea-level plan ad put the lock plan into effect.    Finally a special commission of inquiry upheld him, and he proceeded with his work.  He made many other changes in the plan, such as widening the canal.

But Goethals shone as an administrator even more than as an engineer, President Roosevelt appointed him not only as chief engineer, but also as Chairman of the Canal Commission, and Goethals's greatest achievement was in the administrative function of organizing a highly efficient system for the co-ordination of all factors--sanitation, excavation, commissary, housing, labor, design, construction, &c.  A man of great force and personality, he inspired complete confidence in the entire organization, and brought it together in harmony.  The canal job came to be known as a model of efficient labor and industrial harmony as well as sound engineering.  So well was the work done that it was finished nearly a year ahead of the time originally contemplated.

After the isthmus had been cleaned up in a sanitary way and disease had been eliminated, Goethals's first big task was to tear down several large mountains in the centre of the isthmus in order to lower the canal elevation.  Millions of tons of earth were carted away as mountains were removed to make way for the famous Culebra Cut.

His next feat was the building of Gatun Lake, covering 150 square miles in the interior of the isthmus and eighty-five feet above sea level, followed by the building of the Gatun Dam to control the Charges River.  Then came the construction of the great concrete locks on the biggest scale ever attempted, with their huge steel gates.  When all these tasks were completed, General Goethals received the formal thanks of Congress for "distinguished service in constructing the Panama Canal."

Son of Dutch Immigrants.

Goethals was born in Brooklyn on June 29, 1858.  He was the son of Dutch immigrants in modest financial circumstances.  After attending City College in New York for three years, he won an appointment to West Point.  On his graduation in 1880 with a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers, he was the second honor man of his class.  He is listed in the Register of the United States Military Academy as the first honor man of the class of 1880, because the name of the man who actually stood first was erased from the records after his conviction for embezzlement in the Savannah Harbor scandal some years later.

Goethals became a first lieutenant in 1882 and was stationed at Cincinnati to improve the channel of the Ohio River for navigation.  Next he returned to West Point for several years as an instructor in astronomy and civil engineering, but in 1889 he was sent back to Cincinnati for further work on the Ohio River.  there he obtained his first practical working experience in canal lock and dam construction.

Later he was placed in charge of the construction of the Muscle Shoals Canal on the Tennessee River and of another canal near Chattanooga.  He was made a Captain in 1891.  At the beginning of the Spanish War in 1898 he was commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel of volunteers and appointed Chief Engineer of the Porto Rican Army of Occupation.   He served throughout the war in that capacity.

In 1900 he was commissioned Major in the regular army.  Three years later he helped to plan the fortifications near Newport, R.I..  He was later made a member of the General Staff in Washington and was graduated from the Army War College in 1905.

President Roosevelt appointed him a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1907.  Soon afterward he was made the Chairman and Chief Engineer of the commission and was promoted to the rank of Colonel.  The canal was officially opened to barges on May 15, 1914, and on the following Aug. 15 was declared open to world commerce.

President Wilson appointed Colonel Goethals the first civil Governor of the Canal Zone in 1914, and the following year he was promoted to Major General.  General Goethals was an advocate of completely American sovereignty over the Canal Zone.  He resigned the Governorship in 1916 and was appointed Chairman of the board designated to report on the Adamson 8-hour law for railroad employes.

General Goethals was appointed State Engineer of New Jersey in 1917, but after the United States entered the World War he resigned that post to accept the appointment as manager of the Emergency Fleet Corporation.  After three months he resigned because of his opposition to the plan for a wooden fleet, in which he had little faith.  He was then appointed Acting Quartermaster General, U.S.A., and received the Distinguished Service Medal in 1918 "for especially meritorious and conspicuous service."  In the same year he was made chief of the army's division of purchase, storage and traffic, and was appointed a member of the War Industries Board.  He was decorated by the French Government with the Legion of Honor, Order of Commander, for his war service.

Consulted on Bridge Work.

After retiring at his own request from active service in March, 1919, General Goethals organized the firm of George W. Goethals & Co., engineers and constructors with offices in New York.  He was President of that firm until its dissolution in 1923, whereupon he engaged alone in practice as a consulting engineer, with offices at 40 Wall Street.

He was an adviser of the Port of New York Authority and participated in a consulting capacity in many large projects, including the recently opened Holland Vehicular Tunnels under the Hudson River, the proposed bridge across the Hudson from Fort Washington, Manhattan, to Fort Lee, N.J. [George Washington Bridge], and the bridge now under construction between Staten Island and New Jersey [Goethals Bridge].

General Goethals received many honors from scientific and educational institutions.   Medals were awarded to him by the National Geographic Society, the Civic Forum of New York and the National Institute of Social Sciences, and honorary degrees from Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania.  He declined the post of Police Commissioner of New York City, offered to him by the late Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, and the city managership of Dayton, Ohio.

Call Goethals a Great Executive and Brilliant Engineer.
Special to The New York Times.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21.--"There was something about General Goethals that you find it hard to describe," said Major Gen. Edgar Jadwin, Chief of Engineers, U.S.A., today.   "He was just about the hardest worker I have ever known.  He carried to successful conclusion the greatest of tasks without much apparent effort.  He was not a society man, just a man who loved family, friends and his work.  And with all this was about the greatest executive the corps has known.  His administration of the Isthmian Government evidences that fact.  He was a great West Pointer and was the second distinguished member of the class of '80 to die within a few weeks.  The other was Major Gen. Joseph T. Dickman who commanded the Third American Army in France."

Major Gen. Charles P. Summerall, the Chief of Staff, said:  "In the death of General Goethals the army loses an illustrious comrade and a loyal friend.  His epochal achievement in completing the waterways which unites the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the Isthmus of Panama has obscured the brilliance of many similar accomplishments throughout a period of over forty years as a military engineer, military supply officer and military administrator.  General Goethals was one of the great army figures of our day.  His fame is world-wide."

Secretary of War Davis in a brief tribute declared that in the death of General Goethals the nation loses a citizen who has performed outstanding service in both civil and military capacities"; an officer, he added, who "in the army was honored and respected for both his technical qualifications and his leadership."

Reunion of Former Employes Gets News in  Midst of Celebration.
Copyright 1928 by The New York Times Company.
Special Cable to The New York Times.

BALBOA, Canal Zone, Jan. 21.--In the midst of a celebration and reunion of former workers on the construction of the Panama Canal, in which General Goethals was to have been the central figure, the news came here today of the death of "the Colonel," as he was known to all men and women who served with him on the work that will remain his eternal monument.

A hundred former employes, whose service dated from 1904 and later dates, arrived here this week for the reunion, which had been planned for more than a year.  General Goethals had been prevented from coming here by his ill-health.  The news of his death cast a pall of gloom and sorrow over the entire Canal Zone and Panama, where General Goethals was loved, respected and admired as no other man.

Governor and Mrs. Walker were giving a reception at the Governor's house this afternoon and a dance and celebration had been planned for tonight.  Now, instead of rejoicing on their return her, the old-timers are mourning the loss of their chief.

Never Returned to Canal

General Goethals never returned to the scene of his triumph.  After he resigned the Governorship on Jan. 4, 1917, although many efforts were made to get him to return, but he had planned and had promised to return for the present reunion.  His disappointment because of his inability to return is sown in a letter received by Governor Walker almost at the same time as the news of his death.

"When I saw you last Summer," wrote General Goethals, "I had every hope of making the trip to the Isthmus with the former employes of the Isthmian Canal Commission and the Panama Railroad on the ship which sails this week, but illness has compelled me to give up thought of going on this trip.

Nonetheless during the visit of the reunion in Panama there will be some time when all will assemble at one gathering.  As their former chief I should like to extend through you, their present chief, my very best sincere regret and keen disappointment at not being one of their number.  This greeting goes not only to those Old Timers from the States but to those still in service and helping to make the canal operation the same success which their combined efforts achieved during construction days.

"No leader of any organization ever took greater pride in the spirit of loyalty to the work which animated its entirety, in the cheerful undergoing of hardships when needed, in the overcoming of difficulties that were encountered, and it is real affection which I have for the men who gave willingly to gain the end to which we were striving.  My thoughts will be with you all and I extend to each and every one my affectionate greeting and best wishes."

Governor Walker Announces Death.

Governor Walker issued the following statement after learning of General Goethals's death:   "It becomes my sorrowful duty to announce the death in New York on Jan. 21, 1928, at 11:55 A.M., of Major Gen. George Washington Goethals, the distinguished builder of the Panama Canal, to whom we have all looked up to with such reverence and affection.   Those who have been privileged to intimately know this great man suffer in his passing a lasting personal loss; those who had not such close contact with him will grieve over the death of the man whose sterling qualities served to inspire their efforts during the building of the canal and its early years of operation.

"The life of George Washington Goethals will forever serve as a brilliant beacon to light the youth of America to the paths of true patriotism and manliness.  God rest his soul in peace.  He leaves to his family the priceless heritage of a noble, useful and unselfish life spent the service of his country and of his fellow-men.   The hearts of all go out to Mrs. Goethals and his two sons in deep sympathy.

"As a token of respect to George Goethals's memory, all flags on the buildings of the Panama Canal and the Panama Railroad will be displayed at half-mast until after the funeral services."

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