John G. Claybourn Papers, 1908-1966
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Claybourn, John Geronold, 1886-
- Civil engineer, consultant on marine development and dredging, and superintendent of the dredging division of the Panama canal. Topical files relating to the maintenance and development of the Panama Canal and dredging problems in Burma, Colombia, and other Latin American countries; scrapbook relating to the Spanish-American War; and photographs.
5.5 linear feet (in 7 boxes)
1 oversize folder
- Call Number:
- 85953 Aa 2
- Finding aid prepared by: Leonard A. Coombs
- Scope and Content:
The collection documents the professional life of John G. Claybourn, superintendent of the Dredging Division of the Panama Canal from 1921 to 1948 and a consultant on matters of river and harbor improvement. In addition to the Panama Canal, the collection illustrates the role of the United States in infrastructure development in the Third World.
The papers include materials created and collected by Claybourn in his work on the Panama Canal, materials relating to personal business activities away from his primary work, materials relating to consulting jobs and to Claybourn's activities in professional engineering societies, and personal correspondence, much of it with some business connection.
The collection is not clearly divided by topic: papers relating to a particular topic may be divided among topical files, files arranged by correspondent or company, and the general personal correspondence file. Some of the topics of interest include the following:
Burma: The papers document Claybourn's consulting work in the early 1950s, on contract with the U.S. government, to rebuild commerce on the Irrawaddy River destroyed during World War II and to develop the Dalla Dockyards near Rangoon.
Claybourn, Elsie Greiser: A scrapbook documents her activities as a long-distance swimmer and canoeist. Her retirement years are described in detail in the personal correspondence file.
Claybourn, Leslie W.: Claybourn's correspondence with his brother, an inventor and printing industry executive, provides some documentation of the development of that industry.
Colombia: In the 1920s Claybourn was involved in the development of the Dique de Cartagena, a ship canal serving that city. The papers document his relations with the Colombian government.
Florida: Claybourn was a consultant in the early 1930s for a projected canal across Florida. The collection includes surveys and other papers relating to this project.
Panama Canal: The papers reflect both Claybourn's work on the Canal and his interest in the history of its construction. Most papers on this topic have been drawn together in processing, but many are found under the names of correspondents and in the general correspondence file. The topics documented in the greatest detail are maintenance of the canal, especially clearing of landslides, and planning for additional locks and later for a sea-level canal. Information about dredges used on the canal is also included. A collection of photographs, most of them from official sources, parallels these strengths.
The papers also document Claybourn's moonlighting on private dredging operations during the 1920s. This material is found under the names of companies and projects.
Retirement: Claybourn's retirement years were spent in Ann Arbor. The personal correspondence describes in great detail his and his wife's retirement activities.
Rumania: Correspondence with Bill Arthur includes a copy of Arthur's diary of events during a 1940 rebellion in that country.
World War II: In addition to the Rumanian material described above, the collection contains much relating to defensive activities on the Panama Canal. The Burma project described above includes information about war damage to transportation in that country.
Other consulting activities: Consulting projects in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Venezuela are documented less fully than those described above.
- Biographical / Historical:
John Geronold Claybourn was a civil engineer who rose in the service of the Panama Canal to become superintendent of the Dredging Division, a position he held from 1921 until his retirement in 1948. During his career on the canal and after his retirement, Claybourn was involved as a consultant in river and harbor improvement projects in several countries, primarily in Latin America.
Claybourn was born in 1886, the son of John B. and Ellen Clink Claybourn of Albert Lea, Minnesota. He attended the University of Minnesota, but did not graduate. In 1910 Claybourn traveled to Panama, where he took a surveying position on the Panama Canal. He transferred to the Dredging Division in 1914, and became superintendent in 1921.
As superintendent of the Dredging Division, Claybourn's activities included supervising maintenance work on the canal, particularly the clearing of landslides, acquisition and maintenance of dredging equipment, construction of the town of Gamboa, and planning for improvements to the canal. The chief improvements promoted by Claybourn were a 1930s plan to add a third set of locks, and a 1940s plan to replace the canal with a parallel sea-level canal.
In 1928 Claybourn married Elsie Greiser, a stenographer on the canal. Greiser had attained a measure of celebrity in her youth as a long-distance swimmer and canoeist.
While working on the canal, Claybourn also worked as a consultant on a variety of river and harbor improvement projects in the surrounding countries, beginning in 1917 when he began work on the Dique de Cartagena, a ship canal in Colombia. By the time of his retirement in 1948, he had consulted on projects in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Florida, and Panama. In the 1920s Claybourn also moonlighted on various private dredging projects, including, among others, the mining of the Panama Gold Dredging Company.
After his retirement from the Panama Canal in 1948, Claybourn continued to be active professionally, taking on consulting positions in Burma, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama, and Venezuela. His most important project was probably in Burma, where from 1951 to 1953 he worked to rebuild the transportation network on the Irrawaddy River that had been destroyed during World War II, and developed the Dalla Dockyards area near Rangoon.
On completion of his work in Burma, Claybourn and his wife moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in order to live near her brother. He spent the rest of his life there, carrying on an active correspondence with colleagues from his years on the Panama Canal. Claybourn died in 1967.
- Acquisition Information:
- The collection was donated by Elsie Claybourn (Mrs. John G. Claybourn, donor 4745 ) in three accessions in 1969 and 1970.
- Physical Location:
- Offsite storage in part; prior notification required for access to this portion
- Additional Descriptive Data:
Claybourn donated his library and photograph collection relating to the Panama Canal to the University of Michigan Engineering-Transportation Library, for the Transportation History Collection. An inventory of that donation is found in this collection in the folder "University of Michigan, Presentation of Library, 1966" in Box 4. Contact Rare Books and Special Collections, 7th Floor Hatcher Library, for access. (The photograph collection duplicates in part but is larger than the photograph series in this collection.)
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Engineers -- United States.
World War, 1939-1945.
Boat and ship industry.
Surveying -- Panama.
Spanish-American War, 1898.
Claybourn, Elsie Greiser.
Claybourn, John Geronold, 1886-
Claybourn, Leslie W. (Leslie William), 1883-1956.
Gompers, Samuel, 1850-1924.
Lindbergh, Charles A. (Charles Augustus), 1902-1974.
Warner, Jack L., 1892-1978.
Panama Canal (Panama)
Albert Lea (Minn.)
Panama Canal (Panama)
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Donor(s) have not transferred any applicable copyright to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
item, folder title, box no., John G. Claybourn Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan