Cornelis Lely

Cornelis Lely (Dutch pronunciation: [kɔrˈneːlɪs ˈleːli]; 23 September 1854 – 22 January 1929) was a Dutch politician of the Liberal Union (LU) and civil engineer. He oversaw the passage of an act of parliament authorising construction of the Zuiderzee Works, a huge project – designed to his own plans – that turned the Zuiderzee into a lake and made possible the conversion of a vast area of former seabed into dry land.[1]

Cornelis Lely
Dr. C. Lely.jpg
Cornelis Lely in 1913
Minister of Water Management
In office
29 August 1913 – 9 September 1918
Prime MinisterPieter Cort van der Linden
Preceded byLouis Regout
Succeeded byAdrianus König
Member of the Senate
In office
21 September 1910 – 29 August 1913
Parliamentary groupLiberal Union
Governor–General of Suriname
In office
4 October 1902 – 12 September 1905
Preceded byWarmolt Tonckens
Succeeded byDavid Havelaar (Ad interim)
Member of the House of Representatives
In office
17 September 1918 – 24 June 1922
In office
23 December 1905 – 21 September 1909
In office
21 September 1897 – 16 August 1902
In office
16 May 1894 – 27 July 1897
Parliamentary groupLiberal State Party (1921–1922)
Liberal Union (1894–1921)
Minister of Water Management,
Commerce and Industry
In office
27 July 1897 – 1 August 1901
Prime MinisterNicolaas Pierson
Preceded byPhilippe van der Sleijden
Succeeded byJohannes Christiaan
de Marez Oyens
In office
21 August 1891 – 9 May 1894
Prime MinisterGijsbert van Tienhoven
Preceded byJacob Havelaar
Succeeded byPhilippe van der Sleijden
Personal details
Cornelis Lely

(1854-09-23)23 September 1854
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died22 January 1929(1929-01-22) (aged 74)
The Hague, Netherlands
Political partyLiberal State Party (from 1921)
Other political
Liberal Union (until 1921)
Gerarda van Rinsum
(m. 1881; died 1914)
Children3 sons and 1 daughter
Alma materPolytechnic School
(Bachelor of Engineering, Master of Engineering)
OccupationPolitician · Civil servant · Civil engineer · Architect · Researcher · Author

Early lifeEdit

Cornelis Lely was born on 23 September 1854 in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, son of an oilseed trader. Lely went to the Hogere Burgerschool (HBS). He later studied at the Polytechnic School in Delft and graduated as civil engineer in 1875.[2]

Career outlineEdit

Between 1886 and 1891, Lely led the technical research team that explored the possibility, later approved by a State Commission, of enclosing the Zuiderzee.

The Dutch parliament passed the law creating the Zuiderzee Works on 14 June 1918, using Lely's plan.[3] He served three times as Minister of Transport and Water Management (in 1891–1894, 1897–1901, and 1913–1918) and in this role was hugely influential in advocating the implementation of his own plans.[4] The scheme was finally approved and realised after severe flooding along the shores of the Zuiderzee in 1916.

In 1898 as minister he implemented a law on local railroads and tramways, which played a significant role in the development of the Dutch countryside.

In 1895 Lely became member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.[5] Lely was governor of Surinam from 1902 to 1905.[4] In Surinam he achieved the initiation and construction of the Lawa Railway (from Paramaribo to Benzdorp).


The city of Lelystad, situated in the Eastern Flevoland polder and capital of Flevoland province, was named after him. The flags of the province and of the city are both adorned with a white fleur-de-lys to note his contribution.

In the city of Amsterdam "Cornelis Lelylaan", a major thoroughfare, is named after him and Amsterdam Lelylaan, one of the city's main railway stations, is sited on this road.

In 1905, the Surinamese village of Kofi Djompo was renamed Lelydorp in his honour; Lely having led the construction of a new railway from Paramaribo that ran through the area.[6] Most of the railway has now gone, but Lelydorp survives and is now the capital of Wanica District. It lies on the road from Paramaribo to Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport.

A statue of Lely stands on the western point of the Afsluitdijk. It was sculpted by Mari Andriessen and dedicated on 23 September 1954, the 100th anniversary of Lely's birth. A replica of this statue stands in the center of Lelystad, on a 35-metre-high (115 ft) tower of basalt blocks, designed by Hans van Houwelingen (artist) [nl]. In Lelystad's city hall is a statue of Lely made by Piet Esser.


Ribbon bar Honour Country Date Comment
  Commander of the Order of the Netherlands Lion Netherlands 31 August 1904

Honorary degreesEdit

Honorary degrees
University Field Country Date Comment
Institute of Technology Hydraulic engineering Netherlands 8 January 1907


  1. ^ Jansma, Mr. K. (1954). Lely, bedwinger der Zuiderzee (in Dutch). Amsterdam: H.J. Paris.
  2. ^ H. W. Lintsen, "Cornelis Lely (1854-1929)", Geschiedenis van de techniek in Nederland, 1995. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
  3. ^ Ley, Willy (October 1961). "The Home-Made Land". For Your Information. Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 92–106.
  4. ^ a b Trinder, Barrie, ed. (1992). "Lely, Cornelis". The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Industrial Archaeology. Blackwell Publishers. p. 404. ISBN 0631142169.
  5. ^ "Cornelis Lely (1854 - 1929)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  6. ^ Philip Briggs (1 February 2015). Suriname. Bradt Travel Guides. pp. 169–171. ISBN 978-1-84162-910-0.

External linksEdit

House of Representatives of the Netherlands
Preceded by Member for Lochem
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member for Amsterdam IX
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member for Amsterdam II
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Water Management,
Commerce and Industry

Succeeded by
Preceded by Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor–General of Suriname
Succeeded by
David Havelaar
Ad interim
Preceded by Minister of Water Management
Succeeded by