untimely death of Colonel E.
Lester Jones, on April 9, 1929, meant a loss to the
scientific world of a friend and ally whom it will not be easy
to replace. He was, in his own words, an "engineer of men,"
with an unique ability to encourage and correlate the activities
of scientists for the common good.
Colonel Jones had been for 14 years the directing head of the
United States Coast and Geodetic Survey and in that capacity
had used his talent and energy to promote scientific work and
investigation. Much of the increased activity and interest in
hydrography, geodesy, seismology, and terrestrial magnetism
may be traced directly to his influence.
Just as it is not possible to gage the ultimate value of any
single scientific discovery, just so is it out of the question
to attempt an immediate appraisal of the importance of any one
man's life work in the interests of science. Salient achievements
stand out, but only as a striking color note might glow in the
interlocking intricacies of a great Gobelin tapestry.
A hint of the monument Colonel Jones built for himself, however,
may be found in the splendid organization whose destinies he
guided for 14 years. The Coast and Geodetic Survey, pioneer
Government scientific bureau, is today functioning efficiently;
it is well organized, well equipped, and making rapid forward
strides. For this, the credit must inevitably gravitate toward
the man who led, ever encouraged, and efficiently aided its
Colonel Jones was born in East Orange, New Jersey, April 14,
1876. In addition to extended study abroad, he held an A. B.
degree and an honorary A. M. degree conferred by Princeton University
and was commissioned a hydrographic and geodetic engineer.
In 1913 he was appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of
Fisheries, holding that position until being appointed the directing
head of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey by President
Wilson in 1915.
In addition to his administrative work with this latter bureau,
he was the American member of the International Boundary Commission
appointed to fix the boundary between the United States, Alaska,
and Canada. He had also been a member of several important Government
and scientific missions. One of the last of these was his appointment
as a delegate to the International Geographic Congress of 1928,
at Cambridge, England.
Colonel Jones was a veteran of the 1st Army Air Service, A.
E. F., and served overseas, for which service he was promoted
to the rank of Colonel. He was a member of the Federal Board
of Surveys and Maps, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the
Explorers' Club of America, the American Society of Civil Engineers,
the Washington Society of Engineers, Philosophical Society of
Washington, the Cosmos Club, and other organizations, as well
as being a life trustee of the National Geographic Society.
The death of Colonel E. Lester Jones, Director of the United
States Coast and Geodetic Survey, and one of the founders of
the American Legion, will be felt with sincere regret by all
members of the Society of American Military Engineers.
Colonel Jones had a long and notable career. Early in his Washington
experience, he achieved recognition through his leadership in
the settling of the boundary dispute between the United States
and Canada, concerning Alaska. He was appointed head of the
Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1915. In addition to his work with
that body, he was a member of a number of important government
and scientific missions. He served as a delegate to the International
Geographic Survey of 1928, at Cambridge, England, where he delivered
an address that was translated into many languages and printed
in periodicals all over the world.
Colonel Jones inaugurated the movement that eventually ended
in the organization of the American Legion. He was its first
post and first department commander and was also instrumental
in the formation of the Legion abroad. Through his influence
in its work, he secured positions for thousands of veterans
of the World War.
His death was attributed to the effects of his war service as
a colonel in the division of military aeronautics in France
and Italy (where he was decorated by King Victor Emanuel). He
was badly gassed and had been receiving treatment for the last
Colonel Jones was an enthusiastic member of the Society of American
Military Engineers, and rendered valuable services both to the
Washington Post and to the national organization. He served
as Vice-President of the Post in 1924, and as a member of the
Board of Directors of the National Society in 1925, 1926, and
Ernest Lester Jones, the son of Charles Hopkins and Ida (Lester)
Jones was born in East Orange, New Jersey on April 14, 1876.
He received his educational training at the High School in Orange,
New Jersey and at Newark Academy. Later he matriculated to Princeton
University in the Class 1898, from which institution he received
the Bachelor of Arts Degree.
Following the completion of his studies at Princeton University,
Mr. Jones was engaged in research, secretarial work, and business
for a number of years. Early in 1913 he entered the service
of the Federal Government. President Wilson having appointed
him Deputy Commissioner in the United States Bureau of Fisheries.
He remained in this position until April 14, 1915, when he became
Superintendent (title changed to Director in 1919) of the United
States Coast and Geodetic Survey, which position he held until
During his residence in Washington, D.C., Colonel Jones served
in the District of Columbia Militia, from Private to Major.
During a portion of 1918 and 1919 he was on furlough from the
Coast and Geodetic Survey, and was commissioned a Lieutenant-Colonel,
U.S. Signal Corps. Later, he became Colonel, Division of Military
Aeronautics, and served with the American forces in France in
the World War. For exceptional services during the war period
he was decorated by the King of Italy as Officer of the Order
of S.S. Maurizio and Lazzaro, and Fatigue de Guerre (Italy);
he was also an Officer of the Legion of Honor (France). Immediately
following the cessation of the war, when men's minds everywhere
were turned toward matters of rehabilitation, Colonel Jones
was among the first to consider the welfare of those who had
been at the battle front in Europe and thus it came about that
he was the organizer of the first post of the American Legion
(George Washington Post, Washington, D.C.), and also an organizer
and incorporator of the National Legion.
As the efficient administrator of a Federal Bureau, Colonel
Jones early came to see the need for better conditions and more
adequate salaries for employees in the Federal Service, and
his advocacy of their cause in bringing these urgent needs to
the attention of the proper authorities had an important part
in securing remedial legislation. The great improvement in the
efficiency of the personnel of the Federal Service, as a result
of this legislation, has amply justified the wisdom of his efforts.
It was a part of his philosophy of human affairs that the best
work can be done only when men have the best tools and appliances
for doing it and so it was among his basic endeavors while Director
of the Coast and Geodetic Survey that the Bureau's engineers
be supplied with adequate ships and modern instruments and equipment.
These things he achieved in a large measure, the good effects
of which are reflected in a larger and better volume of work
and a finer spirit of performance by the entire personnel, so
that the Bureau now meets the purposes of its being with a growing
satisfaction and increased efficiency.
Throughout his administration of the Bureau, Colonel Jones exemplified
high executive ability. He was outstanding in his loyalty to
the work of the organization and to his associates and subordinates,
and in turn he engendered in them such sentiments toward himself.
He worked constantly for the improvement of the Service under
his direction so that the public might thereby be better served.
He was positive in responding personally to whatever seemed
necessary to advance each class of work and always cooperated
with those of his associates who were making progress. He spared
himself no amount of effort and toil to attain the things he
thought were right and needful to be done. He had a humane and
sincere sympathy for all who requested his assistance. Although
firm in his opinions, yet he was considerate of the views of
others. He was loyal alike to those whom he served and to those
who served under him, and also to his own promises and obligations
in that he gave the best that was in him in all his endeavors.
In addition to his duties as Director of the Coast and Geodetic
Survey, Colonel Jones was also Commissioner of the International
Boundary between the United States and Canada and Alaska and
Canada, from February 1921 until his death. He was a member
of the Aerial Patrol Commission of the United States, and a
member of a number of Government and scientific missions, one
of the last of which was a delegate to the International Geographic
Congress in Cambridge, England in 1928.
Colonel Jones was a member of a large number of organizations
and societies, which included scientific, engineering, social,
patriotic, and outdoor recreations purposes, showing thereby
a wide range of active human interest of usefulness. Among the
organizations of which he was an active member may be mentioned
in the Washington Academy of Sciences; the Philosophical Society
of Washington; the American Association for the Advancement
of Science, Washington Society of Engineers; the National Geographic
Society; the Meteorological Society; the American Fisheries
Society; the National Association of Audubon Societies; the
Society of American Military Engineers; the Military Order of
the World War; and the Society of Mayflower descendants. His
membership in various clubs and civic organizations, also eloquent
evidence of his wide interest in his fellow man, included the
National Press Club, the Explorers Club (New York), the Aero
Club of America, and Cosmos Club, and the Federal Club.
He was the author of the following Government publications:
"Alaska Investigations," "Hypsometry," Elements of Chart Making,"
Safeguard the Gateways of Alaska," Earthquake Investigations
in the United States," and The Neglected Waters of the Pacific."
In addition, he also was the author of the following (unofficial)
papers: "Evolution of the National Chart," Science and the Earthquake
Perils," and "Aerial Surveying."
In 1919, he was granted the honorary degree of Master of Arts
from Princeton University with the following citation:
Lester Jones, Director, United States Coast and Geodetic Survey,
the oldest scientific agency of our Government, writer on our
coastal waterways bordering the Pacific Ocean, a resourceful
administrator, increasing largely our supply of reliable maps
and supervising the use of new devices for making our waters
safer, notably by detecting the perilous submerged pinnacle
rocks; a Colonel in the Army during the war, on active service
in France and Italy, decorated by the King of Italy, awarded
the Diploma of Merit by the Aerial League of America, recommended
for the French Croix de Guerre; most recently instrumental in
helping to form the American Legion to perpetuate American Liberty."
As a token of its personal regard for Colonel Jones, the following
resolutions were adopted by the personnel of the United States
Coast and Geodetic Survey and the International Boundary Commission:
Whereas, on April 9, 1929, the death of Colonel Ernest Lester
Jones, Director of the Coast and Geodetic Survey and Commissioner
of the International oundary Commission, United States-Alaska
and Canada, has deprived the nation of an earnest, fearless,
and efficient public servant, who always placed devotion to
duty above considerations of personal welfare; and
Whereas, under Colonel Jones' inspiring leadership these organizations
have made outstanding contributions both to the immediate public
welfare and security and to the better knowledge of scientific
truth on which the future of human progress in large measure
Whereas, his deep human understanding and sympathy endeared
him to all with whom he came in contact, so that those who knew
him best loved him most;
Therefore, Be It Resolved, That we, for and in behalf of his
friends and associates in the Coast and Geodetic Survey and
the International Boundary Commission, unite in expressing our
profound conviction that in the passing of Colonel Jones the
Administrative Government of the United States has suffered
the loss of an executive of rare ability and achievement, and
that we have been deprived of a true friend and counsellor:
And Be It Further Resolved, That we extend to his bereaved family
our deepest sympathy and express to them our profound sorrow
and our heartfelt understanding of the great loss they have
On September 28, 1897, he was married to Virginia Brent Fox,
of Louisville, Kentucky. He is survived by his widow and two
Colonel Jones was elected an Associate Member of the American
Society of Civil Engineers on April 3, 1922, and a member on
October 12, 1925.
C & GS BULLETIN, 4/1929
THE MILITARY ENGINEER BULLETIN, Vol. XXI, No. 117, 5-6/1929