U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



Prepared for the Philadelphia District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2012) 398 pages.


Essayons. Long the motto of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this single French imperative is best translated as “Let Us Try.” At first glance, it’s an unlikely rallying cry. Just try? Doesn’t it matter if we succeed? We all know one answer: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” But more important— if at first you don’t try, you won’t succeed at all.

That is how the men and women of the Corps’ Philadelphia District embody the true essayons spirit: They keep succeeding because they never stop trying.

This volume picks up where The District: A History of the Philadelphia District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1866–1971 leaves off. Aside from the updated time period, the title of this book acknowledges the former Marine Design Division becoming a separate Corps organization in 1979, although both the location and the legacy of the Philadelphia District and the Marine Design Center have remained close together.

We also wanted the title to capture the essential qualities that best reflect the District’s reputation. We are known for trying and doing our best from the beginning (responsiveness to customer needs) through to the end (reliability in delivering solutions that meet those needs).

In these pages, we look at the changes and challenges that have affected the District as a whole, along with the programs, projects, and events that have defined its mission. A lot changed between the Philadelphia District of 1972, which had become largely a civil works district focused on navigation and flood control, and the Philadelphia District of 2008, which had evolved into a full-service district—with its historic military construction mission restored and a third mission officially dedicated to reimbursable work for non-Corps customers. We were always known as a “dredging district,” but now we dredge for shore protection as well as for navigation. We had long enjoyed a good reputation with our Army and Air Force customers; now that network of satisfied customers includes EPA, FEMA, the Coast Guard, and many others. What was always a top-notch engineering organization is now a top-notch engineering and environmental organization. We always responded to any emergency, any contingency. We still do, but more often, and often much farther from home. For decades, one of the District’s divisions handled naval architecture and marine engineering for the Corps’ varied and wide-ranging fleet; now, as the Marine Design Center, its customer base has steadily grown to include the Army and other federal agencies.

Like that first volume, this is not a comprehensive record of all programs, projects, and events spanning almost four decades. That would require many more volumes. Rather, it is a continuation of the narrative about a unique organization and some of the things that made it so. We did not intend this as a bound catalog of facts, but as a book worth reading. We hope we have succeeded, and that you find it both educational and enjoyable. Most important, I hope you come away with a deeper understanding of the pride I have in serving with such a fine group of people.