Zachry, Henry Bartell (1901–1984)

By: Jack R. Maguire

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1996

Updated: April 6, 2019

Henry Bartell (Pat) Zachry, engineer, contractor, philanthropist, rancher, and business leader, was the founder of H. B. Zachry Company, one of the country's largest construction companies. He was born on September 27, 1901, in Uvalde, the second of three children of John Henry and Emma (Bartell) Zachry. His father, an officer in the Spanish-American War and World War I, operated successful businesses in Goliad, Angleton, and Uvalde and was president of the Merchants State Bank in Laredo. Henry Bartell was an honor student at Uvalde High School, where he debated, lettered in baseball and football, and played in the band. He planned to use his scholarship at Texas A&M to study animal husbandry. He wanted to be a rancher. However, World War I was nearing its end when he entered college in the fall of 1918, and A&M was not offering the courses that he wanted. He switched to civil engineering, graduated in 1922, and began a career that would make the Zachry name known the world over as a respected and resourceful builder. He received his first job offer with the United States Geodetic Survey in Panama, but his mother's illness prevented him from accepting it. He went instead to Laredo, where his family had moved, and became a Webb County surveyor. There he drew plans for his first highway, a county road to a nearby oilfield. When the State Highway Department took over its building he founded the H. B. Zachry Company and bid successfully on constructing the road's one bridge. That $40,000 job, in 1924, launched a business that would one day build many more bridges, thousands of miles of highways, dozens of dams, pipelines, power plants, and air fields, and a variety of installations throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and South America. Zachry projects include the runways at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; missile bases at Abilene, Texas, and Kwajalein in the South Pacific; an air base in Thailand; a segment of the Alaskan pipeline; hospitals in San Antonio and Saudi Arabia; the United Nations peace-keeping installation in the Sinai Peninsula; and hundreds more. At times the Zachry enterprises have had as many as 12,000 employees working on projects as varied as a Peruvian mountain highway, a nuclear power plant in Spain, and large petrochemical plants in Texas.

During his lifetime, "Mr. Pat," as he was affectionately known to thousands of Texans, gave away millions of dollars but expressed the preference that his generosity not be publicized. Texas A&M, his alma mater, honored him by naming the magnificent four-story Zachry Engineering Center in his name in 1972. In 1968, as chairman and chief executive officer of San Antonio's HemisFair, he personally underwrote hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses the exposition suffered. His company also developed innovative modular construction methods to ready the twenty-one floor Hilton Palacio del Rio hotel in a record-breaking 202 working days for use by visitors to HemisFair. Because he recognized the educational importance of the Texas Folklife Festival staged annually in San Antonio by the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, Zachry furnished materials and manpower to help make the event one of the largest and best of its kind in the world. Always a supporter of education, Zachry made generous scholarships available at Texas A&M and at St. Mary's University. He served for six years on the Texas A&M board of directors and was appointed head of the governor's twenty-five-member committee that developed the Coordinating Board of Texas Colleges and Universities; he served on the board for six years. He also served as an officer or director of dozens of other educational and civic organizations including the Dallas Federal Reserve Board. Zachry was married in 1929 to Marjorie Powell, and they had five children. After her death, he married Pauline (Polly) Butte Dawson of San Antonio. He died on September 5, 1984, in San Antonio, and was buried in Sunset Memorial Park.

Amado Felipe Cavazos, Zachry, the Man and His Companies (San Antonio: Metro Press, 1993). Proceedings of the Philosophical Society of Texas, 1984. San Antonio Express, September 6, 1984. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Central Texas
  • San Antonio

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jack R. Maguire, “Zachry, Henry Bartell,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996
April 6, 2019