B'klyn Man Dug Ditch

Daily News Washington Bureau Chief

Friday, November 19, 1999

uilding the Panama Canal was the moon shot of its day, and mission control was led by Col. George Washington Goethals, an Army engineer from Brooklyn.

Born to Flemish immigrants in 1858, Goethals was hand-picked by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 to take over the massive construction project, which claimed about 5,600 lives, after its first chief engineer abruptly quit.

panama_arch.jpg (6216 bytes)
Col. George Washington Goethals

Working seven-day weeks, crisscrossing the Panamanian isthmus on his railroad car nicknamed "Yellow Peril," Goethals stayed on the job until the epic project was finished in 1914. He then became the first military governor of the U.S. Canal Zone.

"He was an exemplary public servant," says David McCullough, author of "The Path between the Seas," the definitive work on the canal. "He was a very able, effective administrator. He brought the project through on time and at less cost (about $387 million) than originally estimated, this despite the fact that landslides increased the magnitude of the job almost by geometric proportions."

He retired from the Army in 1919 as a major general and opened a Manhattan engineering firm. He dissolved the enterprise four years later and became a consulting engineer with offices at 40 Wall St. He was a consultant to the Port Authority on the construction of the George Washington Bridge, the Holland Tunnel and the bridge linking Staten Island and New Jersey that bears his name.

Goethals worked his way through City College for three years before entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating second in his class in 1880. He died at age 70 on Jan. 21, 1928, in his apartment on E. 86th St. in Manhattan, and is buried in the West Point cemetery.

Reprinted with permission of The New York Daily News

December 6, 1999

Click Back Button To Return To Previous Page