John G. Claybourn Papers: 1908-1966
Summary Information
Title: John G. Claybourn Papers
Creator: Claybourn, John Geronold, 1886-
Inclusive dates: 1908-1966
Extent: 5.5 linear feet (in 7 boxes)
Extent: 1 oversize folder
Location: Offsite storage in part; prior notification required for access to this portion
Abstract:
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.
Call number: 85953 Aa 2
Language: The materials are in English.
Repository: Bentley Historical Library
1150 Beal Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2113
Phone: 734-764-3482
Fax: 734-936-1333
e-mail: bentley.ref@umich.edu
Home Page: http://www.bentley.umich.edu/
Finding aid prepared by: Leonard A. Coombs

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

The collection was donated by Elsie Claybourn (Mrs. John G. Claybourn, donor 4745) in three accessions in 1969 and 1970.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

To protect fragile audiovisual recordings (such as audio cassettes, film reels, and VHS tapes), the Bentley Historical Library has a policy of converting them to digital formats by a professional vendor whenever a researcher requests access. For more information, please see: http://bentley.umich.edu/research/duplication/.

Copyright:

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


Biography

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.


Collection Scope and Content Note

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.

Subject Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the finding aid database and catalog of The Bentley Historical Library/University of Michigan. Researchers desiring additional information about related topics should search the catalog using these headings.


  • Burma.
  • Canal Zone.
  • Canals.
  • Colombia.
  • Dredging.
  • Engineers -- United States.
  • Florida.
  • Latin America.
  • Panama.
  • Panama Canal (Panama)
  • Retirement.
  • Romania.
  • World War, 1939-1945.
  • Albert Lea (Minn.)
  • Bands.
  • Boat and ship industry.
  • Burma.
  • Canal Zone.
  • Colombia.
  • Costa Rica.
  • Dredging.
  • Football.
  • Freemasonry.
  • Guatemala.
  • Panama.
  • Panama Canal (Panama)
  • Ships.
  • Surveying -- Panama.
  • Spanish-American War, 1898.
  • Photographs.
  • Scrapbooks.
  • Tintypes.
  • Claybourn, Elsie Greiser.
  • Claybourn, John Geronold, 1886-
  • Claybourn, Leslie W. (Leslie William), 1883-1956.
  • Claybourn, Elsie Greiser.
  • Claybourn family.
  • Gompers, Samuel, 1850-1924.
  • Lindbergh, Charles A. (Charles Augustus), 1902-1974.
  • Warner, Jack L., 1892-1978.
Contents List
Request materials for use in the Bentley Library
Container / Location Title
 
Topical File [series]
Box   1  
Arthur, Bill 1940, 1943-1951

(includes 1940 Rumania journal)

Box   1  
Barraza fill, Panama City 1930-1931
Box   1  
Brenes G., Roberto (Costa Rica) 1924-1936, 1942, 1946
 
Burma
Box   1  
Undated
Box   1  
1950-1953 (10 folders)
Box   1  
Clippings
Box   1  
Sketches
Box   1  
Central & South American Development Company 1922-1925
Box   1  
Civic Council of the Canal Zone 1938-1947
Box   1  
Claybourn, John B. (biographical)
 
Claybourn, John B. and Ellen
Box   1  
Biographical
Box   1  
Correspondence 1915, 1929-1940 (4 folders)
 
Claybourn, Leslie W.
Box   2  
Biographical
Box   2  
Correspondence 1913-1917, 1923-1929, 1937-1956 (6 folders)
 
Colombia
Box   2  
Claybourn article 1949
 
Dique de Cartagena
Box   2  
Clippings
Box   2  
Correspondence 1917-1926, 1948 (5 folders)
Box   2  
Survey 1920
Box   2  
Vessel classification code 1955-1956
 
Costa Rica
Box   2  
Correspondence 1946
Box   2  
Diary 1947
Box   2  
DuVal, Miles P. 1942-1947
 
Ellicott Machine Corporation
Box   2  
Catalogs
Box   2  
Correspondence 1921, 1928-1951 (4 folders)
Box   2  
Foote, Leonard 1922-1941
Box   2  
Fox, Jacob Logan 1939-1946
Box   2  
Guatemala 1947, 1949-1950, undated
Box   2  
Ingersoll-Rand Company 1933-1948
Box   2  
Javillo fill, Panama City 1922-1923
Box   2  
Las Cumbres property, Panama 1947-1949
Box   2  
Medinger, A. C. 1942-1946
Box   2  
Overland route from United States to Panama 1942
 
Panama Canal
Box   2  
Alert organization 1940-1942
 
Claybourn articles and speeches
Box   2  
Dredging on the Panama Canal 1931
Box   2  
Sea level plan for Panama Canal 1947
Box   2  
Streamlining the Panama Canal 1946
Box   2  
Suggested methods and equipment, dredging and mining, for converting the present lock type canal to sea level 1946
Box   2  
Miscellaneous 1921-1943 (3 folders)
Box   3  
Construction, Miscellaneous papers
Box   3  
Deep Dredging Conference, Philadelphia 1946
Box   3  
Dipper dredges
 
Dredging Division
Box   3  
Undated and statistical summaries
Box   3  
1915-1949 (7 folders)
Box   3  
Duties 1929-1941
Box   3  
Isthmian Canal Commission 1965
Box   3  
Ladder dredges
Box   3  
Madden Dam
Box   3  
Published information
Box   3  
Riots and treaty 1963-1964
Box   3  
Sanitation
 
Sea level canal
Box   3  
Report by Antonio Sucre
Box   3  
Miscellaneous papers
Box   3  
Special Engineering Division 1943-1948
Box   3  
Suction dredge Caribbean 1928
Box   3  
Suction dredge Las Cruces 1928
Box   3  
Suction dredge Mindi 1943-1948
Box   3  
Miscellaneous papers
Box   3  
Panama Electric & Machinery Corporation 1948
Box   3  
Panama Gold Dredging Company 1928-1946
Box   4  
Patents
Box   4  
Personal correspondence 1908-1964 (14 folders)
Box   4  
Playa de Flor Land & Improvement Company 1935, 1943
Box   4  
Polhemus, James H. 1928
Box   4  
Sells, E. Frederick 1927-1946
Box   4  
Spooner, Ray N. 1932-1946
Box   4  
Taboga Island, Panama 1942-1946
Box   4  
Thompson, Frank Y. 1946-1956
 
Trans-Florida Ship Canal
Box   4  
Clippings
Box   4  
Correspondence 1933-1936 (2 folders)
Box   4  
Surveys and cost data 1933
Box   4  
University of Michigan, Presentation of library 1966
Box   4  
Venezuela 1948
Box   4  
Warner Bros. Pictures
 
Photographs [series]

Photographs of dredging and other construction and maintenance activities on the Panama Canal; dredging equipment including dredges, tugs, and crane boats; dignitaries including Samuel Gompers, Charles Lindbergh, and Jack Warner visiting the canal; dredging and water transport in Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala; Claybourn family photos including views of Albert ea, Minnesota, and other topics.

Box   5  
Canal Zone miscellaneous views
Box   5  
Claybourn, John B., family

(includes tintypes and views of Albert Lea, Minnesota)

Box   5  
Claybourn family miscellaneous

(includes tintype)

 
Dredging activities on Panama Canal
Box   5  
Undated
Box   5  
1907-1946 (12 folders)
 
Dredging equipment
Box   5  
Dredge Las Cruces

(includes construction photos)

Box   5  
Dredges miscellaneous
Box   5  
Relay pump barge
Box   5  
Tugs and craneboats

(includes construction and launching photos)

Box   5  
Panama Canal miscellaneous views
 
Personal
Box   5  
Non-Panama 1898-1910

(includes football and band photos)

Box   5  
Panama 1908-1910

(includes surveying photos)

Box   5  
1911-1949, 1957 (5 folders)

(includes photos of Samuel Gompers (1924), Charles Lindbergh (1928), and Jack Warner (1938) visits to Canal Zone, and Masonic band (1934))

Box   5  
Costa Rica trip 1948
Box   5  
Guatemala trip 1949
Box   5  
Burma trip 1951-1953
Box   5  
Colombia trip 1955

(see also Box 7)

Box   5  
University of Michigan, Presentation of library 1966
Box   5  
Portraits

(includes photos of John and Elsie Claybourn)

Box   5  
Staff portraits

(group portraits of Canal Zone governor's staff and Dredging Division staff)

 
Personal/Miscellaneous [series]
Box   6  
Scrapbook concerning the Spanish-American War 1898-1899
Box   7  
Scrapbook of Elsie Greiser (Claybourn) concerning her long-distance swimming and canoeing activities 1915-1922

(includes photos)

Box   7  
"Service record," including testimonial letters on the retirement of John G. Claybourn 1948
Box   7  
Photograph album of Colombia trip 1955-1956
 
Maps [series]

(in basement map cases)

Drawer   23  
Maps of Burma: of Dalla Dockyards and vicinity 1951-1953 (5 maps)
Drawer   23  
Maps of Canal Zone: of excavations, slides, Gamboa, and sea-level canal plans 1912, 1929, 1941-1945 (15 maps)
Drawer   23  
Maps of Colombia: of Cartagena harbor and the Dique 1915, undated (2 maps)
Drawer   23  
Map of Florida: of proposed Trans-Florida Ship Canal 1933 (1 maps)
Drawer   23  
Map of Guatemala: of Rio Dulce 1947 (1 maps)
Drawer   23  
Maps of Panama: of Rio Tuquesa, Las Cumbres, and a historical map 1927, 1939, 1945-1948 (6 maps)
Additional Descriptive Data
Related Materials

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.)