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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A head-and‑shoulders photograph, three-quarters right, of a very youthful-looking clean-shaven man in middle age, with an alert air and a hint of smile, wearing a very plain military tunic, a single five-pointed star prominently visible on his right epaulet. He is George Washington Burr, a West Point graduate whose career is detailed on this webpage.]

Major General
George Washington Burr

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Sixtieth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 11, 1925.

George Washington Burr
No. 3241 Class of 1888.
Died, March 4, 1923, at Washington, D. C., aged 57 years.

Brigadier General George Washington Burr, Ordnance Department, on duty as Assistant to the Chief of Ordnance, died on March 4, 1923, at his residence, The Mendota, Washington, D. C.

General Burr was born in Illinois, December 3, 1865, and was appointed to the United States Military Academy from Missouri, June 15, 1884, being graduated number four in the Class of 1888. He was assigned to duty as Second Lieutenant, 1st Artillery, June 11, 1888, and served in garrison with that regiment at the Presidio, San Francisco for several years. In 1891 he was transferred to Fort Hamilton, New York Harbor, and later served as Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Mississippi until July 7, 1893. He was appointed First Lieutenant in the Ordnance Department, January 10, 1893, after competitive examination, and served as a subordinate officer at the Allegheny Arsenal, Rock Island Arsenal, Watervliet Arsenal and Sandy Hook Proving Ground until September, 1902. He was promoted to Captain, Ordnance Department, April 7, 1899.

During this period he was actively connected with the design, development and tests which led to the adoption of the new type of Field Artillery materiel, the 3‑inch long recoil gun carriage, model of 1902, and developed its manufacture while stationed at the Rock Island Arsenal. When he relinquished this work, this materiel had  p101 been in service for a number of years as the standard Field Artillery materiel of the army, and so remained until the outbreak of the recent war.

He was promoted Major of Ordnance, June 25, 1906. He served as commanding officer of the Manila Arsenal and as Chief Ordnance Officer, Philippines Division, from 1907 to 1910, being in charge of the Philippine Armament District as well as a member of the Fortifications Board, Philippine Islands, during this period. Upon completion of his tour of foreign service, he was assigned to duty as commanding officer of the Augusta Arsenal, Augusta, Georgia, in 1910. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Ordnance Department, in 1910, and was ordered to duty as commanding officer of the Rock Island Arsenal in 1911, where he remained in command until February, 1918. He was promoted Colonel, Ordnance Department, in 1916.

During Colonel Burr's incumbency of the command of the Rock Island Arsenal the Ordnance Department was installing in its establishments various features of what is known as the Taylor system of scientific management of industrial plants. At that time organized labor was suspicious of this system and opposed its introduction, even in the initial stages which had nothing to do with wages or the efforts which workmen were called upon to make, but concerned systematization and orderly procedure only. The Rock Island Arsenal is in a region where labor unionism was very highly developed, and labor was in a position to make strong use of the political power which any organization of voters possesses in a country of popular government. The member­ship of the unions was inclined to think that in a country where all citizens are politically equal they should be industrially equal as well, and that schemes for stimulating output, or for regulating compensation in accordance therewith, should have no place in an industrial establishment, and certainly not in one which was conducted by the Government. The commanding officer was thus in a position in which failure to forward the new system would bring discredit upon the efficiency and economy of operation of his arsenal, while an unreasoning insistence and a refusal to patiently explain the features of the system would have risked an expensive disturbance in the labor force and a turbulent appeal to members of Congress, such as these gentlemen, naturally, find it difficult to ignore. In these delicate circumstances Colonel Burr's tact and judgment did not fail him, and he carried out the scheme of improvement at his arsenal without break in the continuity of the work, and with no further friction than that which always attends keen discussion of a disputed subject. The leaders of organized labor in the United States now express different views in regard to payment in accordance with output from those which industrial management had to contend with a dozen years ago.

 p102  When war was declared he was still in command of the Rock Island Arsenal. He had anticipated the necessity for the large expansion of that arsenal and had been very active in securing the necessary appropriations for new construction, so that, upon the outbreak of the war, there was already in process and well advanced a Field Artillery ammunition factory, a Field Artillery vehicle factory, and a large storage plant, all of permanent type. He had also negotiated the purchase of approximately 15,000 acres of ground at Savanna, Illinois, and had initiated the construction of the Savanna Proving Ground. These construction projects involved the expenditure of approximately $12,000,000. During his administration of the Rock Island Arsenal in the early months of the war, the working force at that establishment was increased from about 2,500 employees to approximately 13,000. As this Ordnance establishment was the largest in the United States for the manufacture and issue of Ordnance material, being practically the only source of personal and horse equipment and mobile artillery equipment, his work there was an important factor in the expeditious outfitting of our troops.

In February, 1918, he was sent abroad to join the American Expeditionary Forces, and assigned to duty as Chief Ordnance Officer in England with station in London on the staff of Major General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Biddle. During this tour of duty, which lasted seven months, he represented the Ordnance Department in large purchases from the British Government of heavy artillery, artillery ammunition, and other supplies so vital to the success of our Expeditionary Forces. This duty required many visits to the larger manufacturing plants in England and Scotland, and a thorough knowledge of and familiarity with their methods and capacities. His energetic prosecution of these procurement activities unquestionably contributed very materially to the successful operations of our combatant divisions on the western front. While on this duty he was appointed Brigadier General, Ordnance Department, August 8, 1918.

In October, 1918, he was recalled from abroad to take over the Engineering Division of the Ordnance Department in Washington and had been on that duty only a short time when the Armistice was signed. In December, 1918, he was detailed for duty on the General Staff, and appointed Assistant Director of Purchase, Storage and Traffic, and upon the retirement of Major General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George W. Goethals to civil life, General Burr succeeded him as Assistant Chief of Staff, Director of Purchase, Storage and Traffic, with the rank of Major General, on March 5, 1919, and continued in that position until relieved at his own request, September 1, 1920.

General Burr's broad experience during the preceding ten years in connection with the procurement and manufacture of army supplies on a large scale had admirably fitted him for the tremendous task of  p103 carrying out the demobilization work in so far as it affected supply, transportation, settlement of war contracts, disposition of stores, etc. In this capacity he was a member of the War Department Claims Board from its establishment, February 20, 1919, until August 31, 1920. He was also the War Department member of the Interdepartmental Board of the Council of National Defense, from November 1, 1919, the date of its establishment, until he relinquished his duties as Assistant Chief of Staff on August 31, 1920.

Upon his relief from duty as Assistant Chief of Staff and Director of the Purchase, Storage and Traffic Division of the General Staff, General Burr was sent abroad on a special mission as the personal representative of the Secretary of War to negotiate final settlement of all outstanding War Department business with certain foreign governments. He was abroad on this mission from September 7 to December 8, 1920, and negotiated the important Burr-Niemeyer Agreement by which all outstanding U. S. War Department business with the English Government was finally settled. He also successfully negotiated certain settlements with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

He was appointed Brigadier General, Assistant to the Chief of Ordnance, for a period of four years in 1920, and upon his return to the United States, in December, was assigned to duty in Washington as Chief of Field Service of the Ordnance Department, charged with all questions of storage, supply and maintenance of Ordnance materiel, in which capacity he was serving at the time of his death.

General Burr was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous service in connection with the demobilization of supply and industry consequent upon the termination of the war, and the War Department business in connection therewith. He was awarded the decoration of Companion of the Bath by the British Government for his services in England and France during the World War, and the Order of the Crown by the Roumanian Government.

W. C.

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