Estevan Antonio Fuertes was born in 1838 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1861 with a degree in civil engineering. Soon after graduating he went to Puerto Rico where he became an engineer in the public works department at Ponce. From 1869 to 1873 he engaged in private practice in New York, but in 1870 President Grant named him Chief Engineer in charge of studying a potential water route via Tehuantepec in Mexico to connect the oceans. The report that Fuertes wrote is one of the most valuable documents that exists regarding this potential passageway through Tehuantepec. In 1873 the president of Cornell University called upon Fuertes to re-organize its civil engineering school; he accepted and served as Dean for 30 years.