Title: Panama Canal Museum Exhibit Materials : Main Exhibit
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00098894/00001
 Material Information
Title: Panama Canal Museum Exhibit Materials : Main Exhibit
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
Creator: Panama Canal Museum
Publisher: Panama Canal Museum
Place of Publication: Seminole, Fla.
 Subjects
Subject: Canal Zone
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00098894
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

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ERA OF SPAIN


For more than five hundred years, since the time Columbus sailed along its Caribbean coast and
Balboa crossed its isthmus, Panama has been viewed as the "Crossroads of the World" by those
who would use its position in the world to further commerce. As early as 1534, Charles V of
Spain decreed that a survey be made in the vicinity of Panama for a ship canal between the
Chagres River and the Pacific Ocean, to connect the Atlantic and Pacific portions of the Spanish
Empire. Although King Charles did not fulfill his vision, the Spanish regularly crossed the isthmus,
from the walled city of Panama to Porto Bello, bearing the wealth of the Inca and the silver
mines of Peru for treasures ships bound for Spain.

FRENCH EFFORTS END IN FAILURE

The French canal effort, undertaken by the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique, was
badly under-financed. In addition, early French canal planners seriously misjudged the rains, the
rivers, and especially the diseases of Panama. Back in France, corruption and mismanagement
led to the dissolution of the company and eventually to the fall of the French government. In
May 1889, all work in Panama ceased.

In October 1894 French efforts in Panama resumed with 2000 workers, under the reorganized
Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama. The project, however, had lost the commitment of
the French people. In May 1904, the properties of the French canal company were transferred
to the United States. France's unsuccessful effort cost 1.4 billion francs, or one billion francs
more than the Suez Canal. It also cost over 20,000 lives.

FRENCH EFFORTS END IN FAILURE

The first French canal effort, undertaken by the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique,
was badly under-financed. In addition, early French canal planners seriously misjudged the rains,
the rivers, and especially the diseases of Panama. Back in France, corruption and
mismanagement led to the dissolution of the company and eventually to the fall of the French
government. In May 1889, all work in Panama ceased.

In October 1894 French efforts in Panama resumed with 2000 workers, under the reorganized
Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama. The project, however, had lost the commitment of
the French people. In May 1904, the properties of the French canal company were transferred
to the United States. France's unsuccessful effort cost 1.4 billion francs, or one billion francs
more than the Suez Canal. It also cost over 20,000 lives.

Panama Land of the Mosquito

One of the major obstacles encountered by the French canal builders in Panama was the
prevalence of two tropical diseases, malaria and yellow fever. The French were not aware that
mosquitoes were carriers of these illnesses. Instead, it was erroneously assumed that "bad air"
or unsanitary living conditions caused the diseases. (Malaria, in fact, takes it name from the
Italian "mal 'aria", or "bad air".) The error of their assumptions led the French to adopt fatally










flawed strategies in trying to solve the problems of disease. French physicians simply reacted to
illness whenever it appeared, rather than trying to develop a proactive program to eliminate the
root causes of the diseases.

Because of its uniform year-round temperature and heavy annual rainfall, the country of
Panama was truly a "mosquito paradise". The French took little action to mitigate the mosquito
problem. They lacked even such essential supplies as wire screening or disinfectants. In the
French Hospital at Ancon ornamental plants were protected from the ever-present umbrella
ants by water-filled crockery rings. Similarly, the legs of hospital beds were placed in water filled
cans to protected patients from insects. Ironically, these practices created ideal breeding
grounds for mosquitoes, which only added to the already high death rate among the workers of
the French company. In the end, disease became a major factor in the failure of the French
efforts to build a canal


"LE GRAND FRAN AIS"

Fresh from his conquest of the sands at Suez in 1869, Count Ferdinand de Lesseps, "Le Grand
Frangais," turned his energies towards the mountainous jungles of Panama. He envisioned a
one-lock canal to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Panama Canal was to be France's gift
to the world and was to be funded by the people of France. A lottery system was instituted
whereby private French citizens bought shares in the Compagnie Universelle du Canal
Interoceanique. This was the era of Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty and Eiffel's great tower in Paris.
With confidence in French engineering, and filled with optimism, the men of de Lesseps' vision
began construction at Culebra Cut in January 1880. The high point in the French effort was
1887-1888, when 17,885 workers removed 15,000,000 cubic yards of earth per year.


HOW THEY LIVED

Since yellow fever and malaria were still serious problems and government provisions for the
employees not yet fully implemented, the first years of the American construction period were
difficult canal employees as they tried to make the Canal Zone home. Morale was poor, and
many employees decided to leave. However, in succeeding years as measures taken by Dr.
Gorgas to control mosquitoes began to take effect and entire communities were established,
morale greatly improved.

The Isthmian Canal Commission (I.C.C.) provided housing, mess halls, barracks, hospitals,
schools, churches, a baseball league, clubhouses, cold storage facilities, laundries, sewage
systems, post offices, a bakery, and a hotel. Women, initially discouraged by I.C.C. authorities
from coming to the unhealthy construction environment, came and brought a taste of home
with them. Their presence and influence inspired President Roosevelt to call the U.S. wife on
the Isthmus of Panama a "better fellow" than even the male worker. Saturday night dances at
the I.C.C. Tivoli Hotel, Sunday I.C.C. band concerts, Y.M.C.A. clubhouses, sightseeing, the beach,
and clubs and fraternal organizations provided leisure activities for the employees and their
families after the workers' ten-hours a day, six-day work week.

Many of these activities were available to only the skilled ("gold") employees and their
dependents. Schools, commissaries, and housing were among the separate and generally










unequal facilities and services provided the unskilled ("silver") employees and their families.
Skilled and unskilled bachelors lived in separate barracks; but those of the unskilled bachelors
had no screened windows or doors and crammed together as many as 72 men, who slept on
folding canvas bunk beds. Family housing for unskilled workers was so lacking that many looked
elsewhere-to Panama's cities or jungle--for housing at their own expense. Skilled workers with
families, on the other hand, lived in single cottages, duplexes, or four-family houses rent free.
Towns were built on construction sites, and town sites moved as construction progressed.

But all employees enjoyed free medical care, strong I.C.C. safety regulations, and reasonably
priced food at the commissaries. And despite inequities and hardships, most employees and
their families experienced a standard of living that was comparable to or even better than that
which they had experienced prior to their arrival in the Canal Zone. This was an important
factor in keeping a motivated, successful work force.


THE LOCKS A STAIRWAY FOR SHIPS

Rather than attempting to build a sea level canal, like the French, the Americans decided to
build the U.S. canal with a series of locks. A lock type of canal significantly reduced the volume
of soil and rock that would have to be removed in order to bring the entire length of the
waterway down to sea level. The presence of locks also solved a potentially serious problem
stemming from tidal differences between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Although the two
oceans lie basically at the same level, their tidal patterns differ significantly. Tides at the Atlantic
end of the canal have a range of less than 24 inches, whereas tides at the Pacific end rise and fall
more than 20 feet each day. Without the barrier afforded by the locks, these differences in tidal
patterns would have generated extreme tidal currents within the canal itself, making ship traffic
difficult, if not impossible.

In all, three sets of locks were built; one set each at Miraflores, Pedro Miguel, and Gatun. At the
request of the navy, the locks were designed to accommodate the largest warships in the U.S.
fleet each chamber being 1000 feet long by 110 feet wide. Construction of the locks took more
than four years. Nearly 5 million cubic yards of cement were poured to form the massive lock
chambers, and, at the time they were built, the locks of the Panama Canal were the largest
concrete structures in the world.




THE PANAMA RAILROAD

Fifteen years before the U.S. transcontinental railroad connected the Atlantic and Pacific
Oceans, the two bodies of water were linked by the Panama Railroad. William H. Aspinwall and
his associates, John L. Stephens and Henry Chauncey, envisioned an "iron road" across the
isthmus to carry steamship mail from New York and New Orleans to California and Oregon. The
railroad would also carry the "Forty-niners", rushing to get to the newly-discovered gold fields in
California.

The Panama Railroad Company was incorporated on April 15, 1850 and work began the
following month under the supervision of Chief Engineer Col. George W. Totten. Overcoming










weather, topography, and disease, Totten and his multi-national workforce completed the
herculean task in January 1855, connecting Aspinwall (today's Colon) on the Atlantic side with
Panama City on the Pacific side. The job was finished ahead of the schedule as granted by the
Government of New Granada.

In their efforts to construct the Panama Canal, France and the United States also utilized the
railroad's locomotives and dump cars. Without the rolling stock of the Panama Railroad, the
movement of the tons of earth removed during the canal's excavation would have been far
more difficult if not impossible.

Today the railroad's successor, the Panama Canal Railway, a joint venture of the Kansas City
Southern and Lanigan Holdings, LLC of Hazelcrest, Illinois, continues the tradition of the Panama
Railroad in carrying cargo and passengers along the "fastest transcontinental railroad in the
world"-ocean to ocean in an hour.


"TREASURE TRAILS"
The early Spaniards' trek across Panama's isthmus was made possible by the Las Cruces Trail,
from the mouth of the Chagres to Panama City, and the El Camino Real, from Porto Bello and
Nombre de Dios to Panama City. The Spanish built fortifications at San Lorenzo and Porto Bello
on Panama's Caribbean coast to guard their treasure routes, as well as their storehouses of
treasure awaiting shipment to Spain. From the late 16th through the early 18th century these
forts continuously came under attack by the English adventurers and privateers, Sir Francis
Drake, Henry Morgan, and Admiral Vernon. Though eventually the treasure trails would be
abandoned, the city of Panama would be rebuilt and the Isthmus of Panama would continue to
beckon those visionaries who sought to link the world's oceans.


THE WORKERS

DURING THE U. S. CONSTRUCTION YEARS, FROM 1904 THROUGH 1914, MORE THAN FIFTY
THOUSAND WORKERS ARRIVED FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD. THE GREAT MAJORITY WERE
UNSKILLED LABORERS FROM THE NEARBY ISLANDS OF THE WEST INDIES. LARGE CONTINGENTS
ALSO CAME FROM ITALY AND SPAIN. STILL OTHERS CAME FROM INDIA AND THE FAR EAST. IN
ALL, MORE THAN 97 NATIONS WERE REPRESENTED IN THE CONSTRUCTION WORKFORCE OF THE
PANAMA CANAL.

FOREIGN WORKERS WERE GENERALLY INVOLVED IN HEAVY, MANUAL LABOR. WAGE RATES FOR
THIS TYPE OF LABOR WERE RELATIVELY LOW, SO THESE WORKERS TYPICALLY RECEIVED THEIR
PAY IN SILVER CURRENCY. WITHIN THE ISTHMIAN CANAL COMMISSION (I.C.C.) THEY WERE
REFERRED TO AS "SILVER" EMPLOYEES.

IN ADDITION TO A GREAT MASS OF UNSKILLED LABORERS, THE JOB OF BUILDING A CANAL
WOULD ALSO REQUIRE THE EFFORTS OF MORE THAN SIX THOUSAND SKILLED WORKERS, MOST
OF WHOM CAME FROM THE UNITED STATES. PRIMARILY TRAINED TECHNICIANS, ENGINEERS,
AND EQUIPMENT OPERATORS, THESE EMPLOYEES WERE PAID IN GOLD CURRENCY, AND WERE
KNOWN WITHIN THE I.C.C. AS "GOLD" EMPLOYEES.











THE "BIG DIG"

THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE PANAMA CANAL FROM 1904 TO 1914 WAS, AT THE TIME, THE
LARGEST, COSTLIEST AND MOST DIFFICULT PROJECT EVER UNDERTAKEN BY THE UNITED
STATES. NO SINGLE ENGINEERING EFFORT IN AMERICAN HISTORY HAD EVER EXACTED SUCH A
PRICE, IN TERMS OF DOLLARS OR HUMAN LIFE. EXPENDITURES TOTALED OVER $380 MILLION
DOLLARS, WITH NEARLY 6,000 LIVES LOST TO ACCIDENTS, YELLOW FEVER, MALARIA AND OTHER
TROPICAL DISEASES. IN ORDER TO CREATE A "PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS" TO JOIN THE ATLANTIC
AND PACIFIC OCEANS, THE UNITED STATES HAD TO CONSTRUCT THREE ENORMOUS SETS OF
CONCRETE LOCKS, CREATE THE LARGEST MAN-MADE LAKE IN THE WORLD, AND DIG A CHANNEL
NEARLY NINE MILES LONG, 85 FEET DEEP AND 300 FEET WIDE THROUGH THE ROCKY AND
MOUNTAINOUS TERRAIN OF THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE.



"CULEBRA CUT"

THE EXCAVATION OF THE CHANNEL KNOWN AS CULEBRA CUT, PROVED TO BE THE MOST
DIFFICULT AND DAUNTING OF THE MANY CHALLENGES FACED BY THE CANAL BUILDERS.
EXTENDING FROM BAS OBISPO TO PEDRO MIGUEL, THE CHANNEL AT CULEBRA HAD TO BE CUT
THROUGH THE VERY FOOTHILLS OF THE ANDES MOUNTAINS. TO ACCOMPLISH THIS, THE
ISTHMIAN CANAL COMMISSION (I.C.C.) EMPLOYED THE LARGEST STEAMSHOVELS, DREDGES,
AND OTHER EARTH MOVING EQUIPMENT IN EXISTENCE. THOUSANDS OF TONS OF DYNAMITE
WERE USED TO BLAST THROUGH MILES OF SOLID ROCK. IN THE PROCESS, MORE THAN 96
MILLION CUBIC YARDS OF EARTH WERE REMOVED. ON MAY 20, 1913, TWO STEAMSHOVELS
MET CEREMONIOUSLY AT PIONEER CUT, SIGNALLING THE COMPLETION OF EXCAVATION IN
CULEBRA CUT, AND FORESHADOWING A SUCCESSFUL ENDING FOR AMERICA'S MOST
AMBITIOUS ENGINEERING VENTURE.

















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