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George Washington was a great .early American engineer. Hundreds of books have been written about his accomplishments as a Virginia planter, a military commander, a noble statesmen, and a symbol for the new American nation. Although Washington's surveying achievements are fairly well publicized, almost nothing has been written about Washington the engineer and engineer advocate. In this article, I will show that the father of our country was an accomplished engineer who served as a strong proponent for establishing American engineering institutions.
George Washington did not have a formal education. However, from the time he was a young man, he engaged in engineering activities. As he continued to mature, the same skills that made him a good surveyor, builder, and innovator were applied to other pursuits. These talents and experiences formed the solid foundation upon which Washington built his more notable achievements, much the way that Lee and MacArthur applied their engineering backgrounds to become two of the greatest American practitioners of operational art. As you will see, it is time to add Washington to the long list of great American engineers.
Engineers have been labeled as professionals who apply math and science to create something of value (1)-a rather mundane definition. Theodore Von Karman, an aerospace engineer, put it differently. "Scientists discover the world that exists; engineers create the world that never was." (2) This definition fits Washington. In many ways, he was indispensable in creating a world that had not existed in his time. He did this on a grand scale in his efforts as commander of the Continental Army and first President of the United States. He also did it on a smaller scale in Virginia as a surveyor, planter, businessman, and gentleman. Washington created through natural talent, devotion, resoluteness, and hard work.
Engineers throughout history have used this formula for success. Rudyard Kipling recognized these traits when he wrote Sons of Martha, his ode to engineers. His ode defends Martha's comment to Jesus about her sister Mary (Luke 10:42). In Kipling's poem, now adopted as the poem for engineers, he writes:
"The Sons of Mary seldom bother for they have inherited the good part; But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart... They say to the mountains, 'Be ye removed.' They say to the floods, 'Be dry.' Under their rods are the rocks reproved--they are not afraid of that which is high. Then do the hilltops shake to the summit--then is the bed of the deep laid bare, That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware." (3)
Washington was definitely a Son of Martha. He fearlessly persevered through many daunting challenges until he prevailed. Virginians, and later all Americans, benefited from his efforts.
Engineering in Washington's Time
Washington lived most of his life before the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Engineering, as we classify it today, did not exist in his day. Although colleges like …