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Ericsson, John (31 July 1803–08 March 1889), inventor and engineer, was born in Langbanshyttan, province of Wermland, Sweden, the son of Olof Ericsson, a mine proprietor and inspector, and Brita Sophia Yngstrom. His earliest education was instruction by his parents and private tutors. John often spent his days drawing and building models of the machinery in his father’s mine. His father was well educated, but John’s strong character traits were attributed to the influence of his mother. Sweden’s war with Russia ruined John’s father financially, but he was able to secure a position as an inspector on a canal project and to obtain appointments for his two sons as cadets in the Corps of Mechanical Engineers. Thus at age thirteen John began his first formal education, and his natural aptitudes for mechanical drawing and solving engineering problems were encouraged and developed....

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George Washington Goethals Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1913. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-0358-A).

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Goethals, George Washington (29 June 1858–21 January 1928), engineer and military officer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of John Louis Goethals, a carpenter, and Marie Le Barron. At the age of fourteen he entered the College of the City of New York. In April 1876, after three years of college, Goethals won a cadetship to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated second in his class in 1880, a distinction that won for him a commission as second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers....

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Haupt, Herman (26 March 1817–14 December 1905), railway engineer, inventor, author, and administrator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Jacob Haupt, a businessman of modest attainments, and Anna Margaretta Wiall, the proprietor of a small dry goods store. Herman attended several private schools in Philadelphia, but in 1827 his father, suffering from poor health, gave up the grocery store he then owned and moved to Woodville, New Jersey. Jacob Haupt died the next year, leaving his widow in straitened circumstances; Herman, the eldest of six children, was only eleven years of age. Two years later Herman Haupt’s congressman, John B. Sterigere, offered to help the boy gain admission to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He received a presidential appointment in 1830, but his entry was deferred for a year because of his youth. Unhappy with the strict upbringing he had received from his father, he was very uncertain about subjecting himself to the hard discipline of the academy, but his mother prevailed....

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Lay, John Louis (14 January 1832–17 April 1899), inventor and engineer, was born in Buffalo, New York, the son of John Lay, a businessman, and Frances Atkins. He was educated in the public schools in Buffalo. Strongly interested in mechanics, he was employed as an engine builder and in other capacities in the Pacific Mail Service. He also worked on various steam vessels on the Great Lakes. For a time he was chief engineer on a steamship operating out of New Orleans that was involved in trading activities in the Gulf of Mexico. Discharged by his employers shortly before the Civil War because he was a northerner, Lay settled in Iowa and, as a licensed first engineer, had charge of a steam vessel plying the Mississippi River....

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Mullan, John (31 July 1830–28 December 1909), army explorer, road builder, and lawyer, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of John Mullan, a civil servant, and Mary Bright. The eldest of ten children, Mullan grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, where his father was postmaster at the U.S. Naval Academy. He received his education, beginning at the age of nine, at St. John’s College in Annapolis, from which he received a B.A. in 1847 and an M.A. in 1855. Family tradition holds that Mullan sought a personal interview with President ...

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Rains, George Washington (1817–21 March 1898), soldier, scientist, engineer, and educator, was born in Craven County, North Carolina, the son of Gabriel M. Rains and Hester Ambrose. Rains graduated third in his 1842 class of the U.S. Military Academy. He was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers but transferred to the artillery. In 1844 Rains was detached to West Point as assistant professor of chemistry, geology, and mineralogy. He served with distinction in the war with Mexico and was breveted captain for gallantry at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco and major for gallantry at Chapultepec. Following postings in the South and Northeast, he resigned his commission in 1856, the same year he married Francis Josephine Ramsdell. The number of their children, if any, is unknown. He served as president of the Washington Iron Works and then the Highland Iron Works, both in Newburgh, New York. Rains joined the ranks of soldier-inventors produced by West Point, when in 1860–1861 he patented several inventions relating to steam engines and boilers....

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Roberdeau, Isaac (11 September 1763–15 January 1829), civil and military engineer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Daniel Roberdeau, a revolutionary war general, and Mary Bostwick. He was educated in Philadelphia and by 1783 was one of four clerks under Joseph Nourse, registrar of the Treasury Department. The same year Roberdeau visited the West Indies with his father before embarking for London, where he studied engineering until 1787. In 1792 Roberdeau married Susan Shippen Blair; they had three daughters....

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Swift, William Henry (06 November 1800–07 April 1879), soldier and engineer, was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, the son of Foster Swift, an army surgeon, and Deborah Delano. Under the guidance of his father and an older brother, Brigadier General Joseph Gardner Swift, an army engineer, he was prepared in youth for military life. In August 1813, when only twelve years old, he joined the corps of cadets of the U.S. Military Academy. While at West Point, his brother was appointed superintendent. Apparently, it was through General Swift’s influence that in 1818, while still a cadet, he joined the expedition of Major ...