James Gordon Steese (1882-1958)

James Gordon Steese

James Gordon Steese was born on January 21, 1882 in Mount Holly Springs, Pennsylvania, the son of James and Anna Shaeffer Steese. He was a 1902 graduate of nearby Carlisle's Dickinson College, although he had entered with the class of 1903. As a student, he was very active as a member of Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity and the Union Philosophical Society, as well as a number of dramatic and musical organizations. He also served as class historian for the class of 1903 and on the Microcosm board of editors until he was promoted to a higher class year. His three younger brothers John --- who later died in the service during the First World War --- Charles, and George also attended Dickinson but did not graduate.

After graduation, he attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Graduating with honors in 1907, he was commissioned in the Army Corps of Engineers.

Steese was stationed in Panama working on the Isthmian Railroad and the Panama Canal Project between 1907 and 1912. Afterwards, he was assigned to various engineering projects in the United States with the Corps of Engineers. Just prior to World War I he was promoted to the rank of colonel. In 1919 he served as Assistant Chief of Engineers and Chief of a General Staff Section during a trip to post-World War I Europe. His service in Europe also gained him several foreign decorations.

Returning to the United States, Steese was appointed the president of the Alaska Road Commission. Serving until 1927, he spent his summers in Alaska working on public works projects and winters touring the United States, raising government awareness for the importance of Alaskan public works. For his work in Alaska the highway from Fairbanks to Circle was named the Steese Highway. Steese was also commissioned a brigadier general in the Alaska National Guard during his time in the Territory.

In 1927, Steese left his public service position because of an injury and retired from the military. From 1928 until World War II he was involved in several business ventures where he served in various executive roles. During World War II Steese was recalled to public service providing assistance in Panama to the defense of the Panama Canal as Executive Assistant to the Engineer of Maintenance and later, Assistant to the Governor. In 1948 he permanently retired from government service.

Steese traveled the globe extensively throughout his life, and served as an official delegate of the United States at several international functions. He died on January 11, 1958 after a car accident while on a trip in Bangui, French Equatorial Africa. He never married.

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Dickinson College Archives
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