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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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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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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 ...