The military is good for a lot more than blowing things up. What most people don't realize is that winning a war often requires building more structures than you destroy. That's where the Army Corps of Engineers comes in. After all, if you're an army on the move, you're going to want people on your side who can build bridges and roads. What may surprise you, however, is that the biggest Army Corps of Engineers projects didn't happen during wars... but during peacetime.
That's right, the coolest things the Army Corps of Engineers has done don't have much to do with combat. For a long time, they were the only formally trained group of engineers in the country, so they had a hand in almost everything the government built. Many monuments, infrastructure projects, office buildings, and iconic landmarks were overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers - and most people have no clue.
So... what are the most amazing they've done? From the Pentagon to the Panama Canal to the Manhattan Project, the Army Corps of Engineers has a storied past and is behind most of the biggest landmarks and projects in US history.
They Made the Mississippi River What It Is Today
In 1824, Congress passed the General Survey Act, which assigned the Corps of Engineers to survey the most important roads and canals in the country. The aim was to improve traversal to make shipping and commerce easier. When the survey was completed, Congress decided to improve many riverways including the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The job was given to the Army Corps of Engineers, which was the only formally trained group of engineers in the country at the time.
Easily linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was an impossible dream for many years. The French tried unsuccessfully to create a waterway across the isthmus of Panama, but abandoned the project in 1888 after too many setbacks. President Theodore Roosevelt stepped in, bought the project, and set the Corps of Engineers to the task of creating the Panama Canal. It took nearly 10 years and $350 million dollars, which made it the most expensive and complex construction project in US History at that point.
The National Road
In the early 1800s, America was expanding westward. Thousands of families were leaving to seek opportunities on the West Coast, but the journey was long and arduous. To make the trip easier, Congress charged the Army Corps of Engineers with the task of building a 130-mile road. The National Road was such a popular success that Congress asked it be extended, which set the stage for America's national highway system.
Part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, the Corps of Engineers designed and built the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which marks the Oregon/Washington border. Its aims were to improve navigation on the river and provide hydroelectric power to the Pacific Northwest. A second powerhouse was added in 1981 to increase its electric output. In 1987, it was declared a national historic landmark.