Timing is Everything, or, Rare Panama Canal Views at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library

As Panama prepares to open up its new locks built large enough to accommodate the latest leviathans of seas, our own Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn reflected on some of the historic Panama Canal materials in The Wolfsonian library collection. Here is her report:

This weekend, a newly expanded Panama Canal promises to admit the enormous ships characteristic of contemporary trade and travel. Adversely, other major ports that need to complete renovations in order for the market to benefit from Panama’s efforts will not be ready for larger vessels.

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Photo credit: David Brancaccio for Marketplace

The original engineering of the Panama Canal was a colossal undertaking. Imperial nations saw the Isthmus of Panama as an inconvenient strip of land blocking a quick and profitable trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

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 The Wolfsonian-FIU, Gift of Clara Helena Palacio and Francis Xavier Luca

First Spain and England imagined creating an alternative to the dreaded and deadly Cape Horn. Later, France’s efforts to build the Panama Canal resulted not only in financial failure but also in catastrophic losses of life. Finally, the United States employed American ingenuity—and with the full backing of President Theodore Roosevelt, the Panama Canal was born.

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 The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU Library contains unique and rare period materials documenting the initial surveying, building, and the eventual opening of the Panama Canal.

This remarkable album contains gold toned albumen antique photographs of Central America.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The album, compiled by an anonymous merchant, predates the turn of the 20th century.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

It shows images of sparse and undeveloped Panama with initial progress toward the building of the Canal.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Progress was impeded by rampant sickness. Yellow fever and malaria patients filled the hospital. Disease was eradicated by the efforts of sanitation officer Colonel William Gorgas (and a million-dollar investment by Teddy Roosevelt towards eliminating infected mosquitos).

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The author comments on seeing native women from the vantage point of the Panama Railway.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

F. N. Otis’s book on the Panama Railroad and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company predates the above album by a decade. Without the infrastructure of the railroad, construction of the Canal could not have proceeded.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

In this engraving, train tracks are visible within the thick jungle.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Wolfred Nelson’s work is an 1889 descriptive travelogue.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

 Nelson acknowledges the railroad’s influence on the landscape.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

 Once the Panama Canal opened for business, illustrated histories such as Ira Bennett’s 1914 History of the Panama Canal: its construction and builders, became popular publications.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The author reminds the reader that the genius of Canal locks and cuts began as imposing ditches.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Joseph Pennell’s series of lithographs also focused on the juxtaposition of humanity and gargantuan complex machinery during the engineering of the Canal.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Work conditions were dangerous.

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The beauty of the unfinished Gatun Lock made for an elegant vista.

 XM1998_217_4_038Approaches

The steam shovel was used to clear terrain.

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The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

For more historic images of the original Panama Canal, The Wolfsonian-FIU Library invites you to peruse the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~ by "The Chief" on June 22, 2016.

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