Montgomery C. Meigs, Jr.

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Montgomery (Monty) Cunningham Meigs (February 27, 1847 – December 9, 1931) was an American civil engineer.

The son of U.S. Army General Montgomery C. Meigs, he was born in Detroit, Michigan, and educated at Harvard University and in Germany. He worked for a few years for the Northern Pacific Railroad,[1] before taking the post of a civil engineer in Keokuk, Iowa, in 1882. He is best known for his management of the canal and locks at the Des Moines Rapids (now inundated after the construction of the dam there) as well as for his involvement in the construction of that same dam, between 1910-1913.[2]

"Major" Meigs – so called as a courtesy, as the man who preceded him in his position in Keokuk had been a military man, though Meigs himself was not[3] – took his position of responsibility in Keokuk in 1882. So well did he design traffic control for the canal and locks, that in 1924 Captain F.A. Whitney told the Saturday Evening Post that he could not recall a single incident occurring in passing through the locks, so long as the rules were obeyed.[4] (And he did not hesitate to become involved personally if need be.[5]) "Major" Meigs was an accomplished riverboat pilot. One of his six daughters, noted author Cornelia Meigs, wrote this of him in an article in the Keokuk Daily Gate newspaper, dated July 30, 1966:[3]

"...It is an unrecorded part of my father’s work that he had the whole picture of the river channel so fully in his mind, with his almost day to day information as to what the mighty Mississippi was about that he felt himself able, where other men would be in doubt, to take the wheel of the big passenger and cargo boats, carrying several hundred people, and pilot them himself down through some treacherous reach of the channel, often rising from his bed at night to do so. He was accepted as a welcome aide by the regular pilots who must know the long stretches of the river but could sometimes not be quite sure in the particularly difficult and rapidly changing channel."

Besides fulfilling this position for the government, Meigs was an inventor: he invented a “canvas coffer-dam” and he pioneered the application of crude oil to dirt roads to improve driving conditions by controlling dust and mud.[6][1] He also built and designed both steamboats and steam dredge tenders. From 1910-13 he was the government local inspecting engineer in the construction of the great lock, dry dock and power developments in the Mississippi River at Keokuk, Iowa.[1] And at need be, during times of flooding, he assisted with the rescue of individuals trapped by flood waters.[3]


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