Vojtech Gerster (Bela Gerster)

Vojtech (Slovak) or Bela (Hunagrian) Gerster was a Slovak-born engineer.

He was born on the 20th of October 1850 in the Slovak city of Kosice, then part of the Habsburg Empire.

His dedicated engineering work still has a great economic significance: he participated in an expedition to determine the route of what came to be the Panama Canal and was the chief engineer of the Corinth Canal.

Vojtech Gerster did his studies at Vienna University of Technology and started his career in the capital of the Habsburg Empire. He soon became a known and respected expert on water constructions.

In 1876, together with Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps and Istvan Turr he took part in an international expedition to determine a suitable route for the future Panama Canal. The aim, back then, was to unite the two oceans, making sailing easier and less time consuming. Vojtech’s proposed the area between Panama and Colon.

Later on, the Greek government granted Istvan Turr permission to work on a long abandoned idea: that of a canal cutting through Corinthus. The first one to think of such a project was Emperor Nero, in 68 AD. In 1881, Vojtech Gerster was given the task of coordinating the plans for the canal. He then supervised the entire project. His co-workers were four Hungarian engineers: Istvan Kauser, Laszlo Nyari, Garibaldi Pulszky and Istvan Steghmuller. The construction of the Corinth Canal took 11 years and was completed in 1893.

Gerster shared his experience while supervising the construction of this important engineering work in a Hungarian-French bilingual book: “Cutting through the Corinthian Isthmos”. The book features both photographs and construction drawings, plans and maps.

In addition to the Corinth Canal, Vojtech Gerster also laid out the railway line between Athens and Larisa.

He also worked in the Danubian region, administrating the works ate the Danube-Tisza Canal, in 1919.

Vojtech (Bela) Gerster died in 1923, in Budapest, Hungary.