Cornelis Lely

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Cornelis Lely
Dr. C. Lely.jpg
Cornelis Lely in 1913
Born(1854-09-23)23 September 1854
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died22 January 1929(1929-01-22) (aged 74)
The Hague, Netherlands
Alma materDelft University of Technology
OccupationCivil engineer, Governor-General of Suriname
Notable workZuiderzee Works
Statue of Lely, sculpted by Mari Andriessen

Cornelis Lely (Dutch pronunciation: [kɔrˈneːlɪs ˈleːli]; 23 September 1854 – 22 January 1929) was a Dutch civil engineer and statesman. He oversaw the passage of an act of parliament authorizing construction of the Zuiderzee Works, a huge project – designed to his own plans – that turned the Zuiderzee into a lake and made possible the conversion of a vast area of former seabed into dry land.[1]

Early life[edit]

Cornelis Lely was born on 23 September 1854 in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, son of an oilseed trader. Lely went to the Hogere Burgerschool (HBS). He later studied at the Polytechnic School in Delft and graduated as civil engineer in 1875.[2]

Career outline[edit]

Between 1886 and 1891, Lely led the technical research team that explored the possibility, later approved by a State Commission, of enclosing the Zuiderzee.

The Dutch parliament passed the law creating the Zuiderzee Works in 14 June 1918, using Lely's plan.[3] He served three times Minister of Transport and Water Management (in 1891–1894, 1897–1901, and 1913–1918) and in this role was hugely influential in advocating the implementation of his own plans.[4] The scheme was finally approved and realized after severe flooding along the shores of the Zuiderzee in 1916.

In 1898 as minister he implemented a law on local railroads and tramways, which played a significant role in the development of the Dutch countryside.

In 1895 Lely became member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.[5] Lely was governor of Surinam from 1902 to 1905.[4] InSurinam he achieved the initiation and construction of the Lawarailroad (from Paramaribo to Benzdorp).


The city of Lelystad, situated in the Eastern Flevoland polder and capital of Flevoland province, was named after him. The flags of the province and of the city are both adorned with a white fleur-de-lys to note his contribution.

In the city of Amsterdam "Cornelis Lelylaan", a major thoroughfare, is named after him and Amsterdam Lelylaan, one of the city's main railway stations, is sited on this road.

In 1905, the Surinamese village of Kofi Djompo was renamed Lelydorp in his honour; Lely having led the construction of a new railway from Paramaribo that ran through the area.[6] Most of the railway has now gone, but Lelydorp survives and is now the capital of Wanica District. It lies on the road from Paramaribo to Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport.

A statue of Lely stands on the western point of the Afsluitdijk. It was sculpted by Mari Andriessen and dedicated on 23 September 1954, the 100th anniversary of Lely's birth. A replica of this statue stands in the center of Lelystad, on a 35-metre-high (115 ft) tower of basalt blocks, designed by Hans van Houwelingen. In Lelystad's city hall is a statue of Lely made by Piet Esser.


  1. ^ Jansma, Mr. K. (1954). Lely, bedwinger der Zuiderzee (in Dutch). Amsterdam: H.J. Paris.
  2. ^ H. W. Lintsen, "Cornelis Lely (1854-1929)", Geschiedenis van de techniek in Nederland, 1995. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
  3. ^ Ley, Willy (October 1961). "The Home-Made Land". For Your Information. Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 92–106.
  4. ^ a b Trinder, Barrie, ed. (1992). "Lely, Cornelis". The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Industrial Archaeology. Blackwell Publishers. p. 404. ISBN 0631142169.
  5. ^ "Cornelis Lely (1854 - 1929)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  6. ^ Philip Briggs (1 February 2015). Suriname. Bradt Travel Guides. pp. 169–171. ISBN 978-1-84162-910-0.

External links[edit]

House of Representatives of the Netherlands
Preceded by
Egbert Broer Kielstra
Member for Lochem
Succeeded by
Willem Helsdingen
Preceded by
Arnold Kerdijk
Member for Amsterdam IX
Succeeded by
Hendrik Bijleveld
Preceded by
Johannes de Visser
Member for Amsterdam II
Succeeded by
Reinhardt Snoeck Henkemans
Political offices
Preceded by
Jacob Petrus Havelaar
Minister of Water Management, Trade, and Industry
Succeeded by
Philippe Willem van der Sleyden
Preceded by
Philippe Willem van der Sleyden
Minister of Water Management, Trade, and Industry
Succeeded by
Johannes Christiaan de Marez Oyens
Preceded by
Warmolt Tonckens
Governor-General of Suriname
Succeeded by
Alexander Willem Frederik Idenburg
Preceded by
Louis Regout
Minister of Water Management
Succeeded by
Adrianus Antonie Henri Willem König