William Gotshall’s work in railways laid the foundation for today’s high speed rail lines. A St. Louis native, he worked in his father’s publishing firm while being tutored in mathematics, electricity and engineering. In 1892, he joined Missouri Electric Light and Power Company of St. Louis, an early alternating-current power company, working in research and development before concentrating on electric railways.
After building electric lines in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Louisiana, he went to New York City in 1897 to convert the Second Avenue Railway from horse car to electricity. Gotshall became president and chief engineer of the New York and Port Chester Railroad, the first high-speed electric railway in the U.S. When the line was completed in 1912, Gotshall engaged in railroad building and rehabilitation in the U.S., Europe and Africa. To improve his communication skills abroad, he learned French, German, Italian and Spanish.
Gotshall’s interests included biology, geography and archaeology. He explored Alaska for the U.S. National Park System, and did archaeological research in Palestine. His athletic interests included rowing, swimming, boxing, wrestling and fencing, in which he was a national champion in dueling sword and saber. He lectured on the economics of electric railways at universities, including Lehigh. Lehigh received one-fifth of Gotshall’s estate for fellowships for graduate engineering students.