© 2010 Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell
Gerard Hendrik, Matthes
Forms of Material:
Maps/Charts, Photographs, Printed Materials, Publications, Reports, Research
Division of Rare and Manuscript
Collections, Cornell University Library
Professional papers of Gerard Hendrik
Matthes, a hydraulic engineer and member of the U.S. Geological
Collection material in
Gerard Hendrik Matthes was born on March 16, 1874, in Amsterdam,
Holland. He and his twin brother, Francois Emile, travelled to the United
States in 1891 to attend M.I.T. In 1895 Gerard became a draftsman and
instrumentman with Alexis H. French, the Town Engineer for Brookline,
Massachusetts. Gerard became a naturalized citizen in 1896. His appointment
with the U.S. Government as Hydrographic Aid, U.S. Geological Survey in 1897
started an association with government service that lasted forty-five years.
Francois became the Chief Topographer for the U.S. Geological Survey. Gerard
Matthes' projects included an investigation of the sources of pollution and
power potential of the Potomac River in 1897. In 1898 he was sent to
southeastern Colorado to make plane table surveys of reservoir sites and learn
about irrigation practices. He did a topographical survey of reservoir sites
and much mapping of Colorado and Arizona in 1899.
In 1901 Matthes went on an expedition to Sumatra to observe a solar
eclipse. In 1902 he was in charge of the computation division of the Water
Resources Branch and helped in designing the first hydroelectric plant on the
Susquehanna River. Also in 1902, he was selected by the Secretary of the
Department of the Interior as the first Commissioner of the Reclamation
Service. The need for construction of public works in the Oklahoma Territory
brought him to Oklahoma in 1903 as the municipal engineer. In 1904 he married
Mary Bewick. The first irrigation storage dam was completed by the Reclamation
Service in 1906. Matthes resigned from the Reclamation Service and accepted a
position with the Colorado Power Company. He was appointed Division Engineer
for the Pennsylvania Water Commission in 1914, and was in charge of flood
inventory. In 1915 he joined the staff of the Miami Conservancy District in
Congress authorized the first water resources investigation for
improvement of navigation, control of floods, development of hydroelectric
power, and utilization of mineral resources in 1920. Along with the Tennessee
Valley Authority Matthes first used aerial photography in this investigation.
In 1923 he became a consultant for Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Inc. in New York
City. He was appointed to the Committee on Photographic Surveying of the Board
of Survey and Maps of the Federal Government in 1925.
As a U.S. Army Engineer Matthes was sent to Norfolk, Virginia in 1929.
Along with General Ferguson, President of the Mississippi River Commission,
Matthes, as Principal Engineer, took an inspection trip of the Mississippi
River in 1932. In 1936 the largest hydraulic river model was built by the
Waterways Experiment Station and in 1942 Matthes was made first Civilian
Director of this department. He was made Water Consultant for President
Roosevelt's National Resources Committee in 1936. As a consultant about flood
control to the U.S. Army, Matthes was sent to Dennison, Texas in 1943. Also in
1943 Matthes was made an honorary member of the American Society of Civil
Engineers who also awarded him the Norman Medal in 1950. In 1945 he retired
from federal service. Until 1953 Matthes remained president of the Rocky
Mountain Hydraulic Laboratory at Allenspark, Colorado. He also continued to be
a consultant for private and corporate projects until he died on March 3,
Professional papers of Gerard Hendrik Matthes, a hydraulic engineer
and member of the U.S. Geological Survey, include material about projects
investigating the Potomac, Susquehanna, Mississippi, Atchafalaya, Tennessee,
Missouri, California, Ohio, and other rivers worldwide. Matthes was concerned
about water policy, water conservation, and the legal aspects of of river and
The collection includes clippings, pamphlets, notes, reports, maps,
surveys, blueprints, traverse books, binders, printed materials, volumes,
photographs, and lantern slides on these subjects as well as on dam design,
canals, irrigation, river geology, revetments, spillways, hydraulic design, and
national resources. Personal papers include Matthes' writings and notes on
topics such as entomology and paleobotany, as well as biographical information,
scrapbooks, diaries, and photographs.
French, Alexis H.
Matthes, Francois Emile.
Matthes, Mary Bewick.
American Society of Civil
Colorado Power Company.
Rocky Mountain Hydraulic
United States Reclamation
United States.Committee on
United States.Mississippi River
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