Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy (1864-1934)
About Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy
Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy was born in Loughill, Co. Limerick. In 1882, aged 18, he transferred from Queen’s College Cork (now UCC) to Queen’s College Galway (now NUI Galway), and completed an engineering degree in 1884.
The following year, he emigrated to California, where he had a prolific career as a Civil Engineer. He initially worked on railway surveys and real estate developments, and built a reputation for precision and resourcefulness. In 1894, at the age of 29, he was appointed the Chief Engineer of the California Midwinter Exposition, a World’s Fair held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. From 1899 to 1906, he oversaw irrigation design and construction projects on sugar plantations in Hawaii, before the catastrophic San Francisco earthquake and fire prompted him to return to work in California and be with his young family, who he had been apart from when he was in Hawaii.
In 1912, following a two and a half decade career in private practice, O'Shaughnessy was appointed the City Engineer of San Francisco, a position he held until 1932. In this role, he oversaw the construction of the municipal railway system, upgraded the city’s water and sewer systems, and carried out feasibility work on the San Francisco Bay Bridges (Dumbarton, Golden Gate, and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges).
He also took a great interest in the Shannon and Poulaphuca Schemes in Ireland, a story that can be discovered in more detail in his archive and accompanying exhibition.
He is perhaps best remembered for the Hetch Hetchy project, a controversial dam and aqueduct project that carried water over 167 miles (269 km) from the Sierra Nevada to San Francisco. Michael Maurice O’Shaughnessy died in 1934, just sixteen days before the first water deliveries from the Sierra Nevada reached San Francisco.