March 16, 1802: President Jefferson authorized to establish the Corps of Engineers. “The history of United States Army Corps of Engineers can be traced back to 16 June 1775, when the Continental Congress organized an army with a chief engineer and two assistants. Colonel Richard Gridley became General George Washington’s first chief engineer; however, it was not until 1779 that Congress created a separate Corps of Engineers. One of its first tasks was to build fortifications near Boston at Bunker Hill. The first Corps was mostly composed of French subjects, who had been hired by General Washington from the service of Louis XVI.
The Corps of Engineers as it is known today came into being on 16 March 1802, when President Thomas Jefferson was authorized to ‘organize and establish a Corps of Engineers … that the said Corps … shall be stationed at West Point in the State of New York and shall constitute a Military Academy.’ Until 1866, the superintendent of the United States Military Academy was always an engineer officer. During the first half of the 19th century, West Point was the major and, for a while, the only engineering school in the country. The Corps’s authority over river works in the United States began with its fortification of New Orleans after the War of 1812.”
March 16, 1804: Birth of Chester Averill who became a Professor of Chemistry at Union College in Schenectady, New York. Averill is known for a letter that he wrote to the Mayor of Schenectady, New York during the 1832 cholera epidemic which praised the disinfecting properties of chloride of lime (chlorine). The treatise quoted many learned men of the time who demonstrated that chloride of lime eliminated the spread of contagious diseases by attacking the miasmas associated with them. The letter also made reference to the destruction of certain “viruses” that may have been responsible for transmission of the diseases.
Commentary: Averill’s letter is an extraordinary document that is worth reading. He was far ahead of his time. Indeed, he preceded Dr. John Snow’s conclusions about cholera transmission (1849) by 17 years.