John Edward McGrath, a retired officer
of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, died at his residence
at the Argonne Apartments in Washington, D.C. on the afternoon
of May 7, 1925, in his 69th year.
He was born in Washington, D.C. September 19, 1856, was educated
at St. Johns School, St. Joseph Academy and College 1868 to
1873, and at the University of Missouri, School of Mines and
Metallurgy, 1873 to 1876, from which institution he graduated
with the degree of civil engineer.
He was appointed in the Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1878, and
advanced through all grades of the service to that of hydrographic
and geodetic engineer with relative rank of Lieutenant Commander
in the Navy. He was retired September 18, 1920, returned to
active duty on September 19, 1920, returned to inactive duty
November 17, 1921.
In the survey his experience extended over almost all parts
of the United States and its outlying territories, on triangulation,
geodetic leveling, base measurement, topography, and astronomic
He was for several years director of Coast Surveys in the Philippine
Before entering the service of the Coast and Geodetic Survey,
Mr. McGrath served in the land survey of the State of New York.
His most notable work, however, was in connection with the survey
of the boundary between Alaska and Canada.
He was sent to Alaska with J. H. Turner in 1889 at the request
of the Department of State to make a preliminary determination
of points on the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers at or near the 141st
meridian of west longitude. They were pioneers in this work,
which was attended with considerable hardship and danger.
After arrival at Fort Yukon, Mr. Turner proceeded up the Porcupine
River and Mr. McGrath remained on the Yukon where an observatory
was erected, and a camp established. Observations were made
for latitude and longitude and magnetic declination and meteorology.
During the autumn the Yukon River was gauged, lines of soundings
run, and the velocity of the current measured. The steamer carrying
supplies for the party was wrecked between St. Michael's and
the mouth of the Yukon but was raised and repaired, and the
supplies were forwarded up the Yukon River about 150 miles below
Fort Yukon. The supply of flour was running low and two men
with a hand sled and three dogs were sent to obtain a fresh
supply, which they succeeded in doing after feeding the tops
of their boots and their supply of deer-skin sinew and the line
from the toboggan to the dogs and caching most of their clothing
by the way, being able to carry besides the flour but one pair
At Rampart House on the Porcupine River, which was reached with
some difficulty owing to the low stage of the river, Mr. Turner
made the necessary observations for latitude and longitude.
This party made a sledge journey from Rampart House to the Arctic
Ocean, a distance of about 150 miles. Both of these officers
brought to the conduct of the work a spirit that overcame all
obstacles. The surveying parties returned to San Francisco in
In 1893 Mr. McGrath made surveys in Yakutat Bay and determined
the geographic position and height of Mount St. Elias.
In connection with the triangulation for the determination of
the location and height of Mount St. Elias, he discovered and
located another peak 25 miles northeasterly of Mount St. Elias.
This second peak is known as Mount Logan and is over 1,500 feet
higher than Mount St. Elias, and the report of its discovery
was an interesting contribution to the geography of that region.
He was engaged on other surveys in connection with the boundary
In the International Boundary Survey one of the outstanding
features of his work in the years 1889 to 1891 was the remarkable
precision obtained by the old methods in the determination of
the longitude of the crossing of the Yukon River at the 141st
meridian at Camp Davidson. In connection with this work he spent
two winters of hardship in northern Alaska in order to be in
readiness for the summer seasons.
A later check by telegraphic longitude indicated a difference
of only a few feet in the position of the same boundary monument
as compared with Mr. McGrath's determination.
15 years previously by moon culminations, osculations, and an
His name is indelibly associated with the longitude work of
the survey in the several transitions toward greater precision.
The conspicuous services of Mr. McGrath deserve more than a
mere expression of personal regret for the loss of an able associate.
With great proficiency were conjoined a refined task for the
arts and sciences, and he will be remembered for the steady
practice of the virtues and amenities that adorn social life.
He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Monimia Arelia Botts McGrath,
who is also a native of this city, and by three brothers and