James Gordon Steese was born on January 21, 1882 in Mount Holly Springs, Pennsylvania, the son of James and Anna Steese.  He was a graduate of the Dickinson Class of 1902. After graduation, he attended the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Graduating in 1907 he gained a commission in the Army Corps of Engineers. 

In 1907 Steese was sent to Panama to work on the Panama Canal Project and the Isthmian Railroad. At the time, the construction of the Panama Canal was one of the largest engineering feats undertaken in history. In 1910 he attended the U.S. Engineer School in Washington D.C. In 1912 he took time off from the Canal Project and traveled around the globe; the first of several such trips in his life. Upon returning from the trip he was assigned to various engineering projects in the United States, serving time on the Mexican Border in Texas; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Instructor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY; and was stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area of California for a brief time before having gone to Panama. By 1918 Steese had risen to the rank of Colonel. In 1919 he served as Assistant Chief of Engineers and chief of a General Staff Section on a trip to post-WWI Europe in the Adriatic and Baltic. His service in Europe also gained him several foreign medals and decorations. He also was promoted to Colonel in 1918.

Returning to the United States, Steese became 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 a portion of highway from Fairbanks to Circle, Alaska was named the Steese Highway by the War Department. Steese was also commissioned a Brigadier General in the Alaska National Guard.

In 1927 Steese left his public service position because of an injury from bobsledding that crushed one of his legs severely, and retired from the military as well. From 1928 until World War II, he was involved in several business ventures where he served in various executive roles. During WWII 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 became Assistant to the Governor. In 1948 he permanently retired from government service. 

Throughout his life, Steese traveled the globe extensively and served as an official delegate of the US at several international functions. He passed away on January 11, 1958 as a result of a heart attack after a car accident while on a trip in Bangui, French Equatorial Africa.

The undertaking of the "Impossible Project" : the design and construction of the Panama Canal and Railroad

Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese

A land of ice, snow, and constant challenge: Alaska's pioneering days and the man who made it possible

Around the World in 40 years, several times over: Steese's several trips to all four corners of the known world

End Notes and Bibliography