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George Washington Goethals. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Veteran: George Washington Goethals

By David Wildstein, May 30 2022 12:00 am

One New Jersey war veteran whose legacy remains intact after more than a century was Major Genera George Washington Goethals, the namesake of the Goethals Bridge.

Goethals was an 1880 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was the chief engineer of the First Amy Corps of Engineers in the Spanish American War.  He was the chief engineer of the Panama Canal project.

President Woodrow Wilson named him governor of the Panama Canal Zone in 1914.  He left that post in 1916 when Wilson asked him to head the Emergency Fleet Corporation and tasked him with building improvised ships to quickly transport soldiers and supplies to France during World War I.

Gov. Walter Edge appointed him to a lucrative post in 1917: New Jersey State Engineer, with an annual salary of $10,000 — $200,304 in 2020 dollars. Wilson convinced Edge to allow Goethals to become Acting Quartermaster General of the United States in 1917 after a congressional investigation revealed supply chain mishaps.

In the 1920s, Goethals became the first chief engineer of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where he built the bridge that carries his name.

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