US Army Corps of Engineers
Honolulu District

Over 100 Years of Service: 1905 - 2012

Lt. John R. Slattery

Born in Athens, Ohio, on Jan. 31, 1877, John Rudolph Slattery graduated fifth in the West Point Class of 1900.  After graduation, Slattery was assigned to the Philippines to work on bridges and roads – a typical beginning for an engineer officer. Honolulu District's first District Engineer, Lt. Slattery, arrived in Honolulu in November 1904 because Hawaii had been found "woefully deficient" in lighthouses.

Within 12 months, Slattery was unofficially designated the Honolulu District Engineer.

On April 15, 1905, Slattery opened the first Honolulu Engineer District office on Bishop Street. His duties had grown to include acquiring land for military fortifications, improving Hawaii’s harbors and expanding the Corps’ service to other Pacific islands.

The beginning...

The Alexander Young Building in Honolulu where Lt. John R. Slattery opened the district office.  During World War II, the district reoccupied the structure.
(Photo courtesy of the Hawaii State Archive)

In 1903, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Pacific Islands and Puerto Rico declared the U.S. Territory of Hawaii to be "woefully deficient" in lighthouses. The Twelfth Lighthouse District took over the construction, inspection and maintenance of Hawaii lighthouses on January 1, 1904. In February, Twelfth Lighthouse District Engineer Lt. Col. Thomas H. Handbury sent Lt. John R. Slattery to Honolulu. Slattery opened the first office in the Alexander Young Building on Bishop Street and his duties soon began to grow.

President Teddy Roosevelt approved an Act of Congress in April 1904 that appropriated funds for procuring land in Hawaii to be used as sites for coastal fortifications. With Slattery already in Honolulu, his duties were now divided between reporting to the Pacific Engineer Division on land procurement and the Twelfth Lighthouse District on lighthouse matters.
                                                                                                                                                                
By August 1904, Slattery was also tasked with preparing a project for the improvement of Honolulu Harbor. His plans to widen and deepen both the harbor and its entrance were submitted by that December and the project was both approved and funded in
March 1905.

The Chief of Engineers cited that as of April 14 mainland control of "the district" had been relinquished and as of June 30, Slattery was in charge. The commonly recognized birthdate of the Honolulu Engineer District is April 15. On October 7, 1905, the Office of the Chief of Engineers published official orders establishing the U.S. Army Engineer District, Honolulu, in the Pacific Engineer Division.

-- Adapted from Pacific Ocean Engineers: History of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Pacific 1905-1980 by Erwin N. Thompson

Historical Photos