Canal Inaugural


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal was officially opened to commercial traffic as the SS Ancon became the first large ship to pass through the locks and sail through the newly inaugurated canal. Today’s post comes to you from Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn, who has been processing, accessioning, cataloguing, and preparing materials about the canal and other grand projects and colonial endeavors of late 19th  and early twentieth century. Here is her report:

The hot topic of pumping out water-logged lowlands in coastal cities currently incites scientists, government agencies and engineers into an overdrive of global debate. Yet a little over a century ago, the goal of the United States was to purposely flood a nearly impassable strip of land to create a highly strategic trade route. On this day in history, August 15, 1914, after hundreds of years of strife, failed attempts, losses of millions of dollars and thousands of lives, the official opening of the Panama Canal did just that. The inaugural passage of the U.S. vessel Ancon proved that a deliberate, directed deluge in a series of man-made locks could make sailing large ships between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans a snap.

The Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection at the WolfsonianFIU library contains original photograph albums and rare books documenting both the French and American sojourns to Panama. This stunning antique photograph from 1885 depicts a seemingly endless, barren wilderness only just penetrated by the Panama Canal Railway thirty years earlier.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

The first Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique workers arrived in Panama in 1881. This photograph album documents surrounding landscape relating to the planning and construction attempt of the Panama Canal by the French.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

An original albumen print from the album shows a dredge used to begin excavation for the canal. Ultimately, the French were forced to abandon their efforts.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

In his 1889 book, Five Years at Panama, Wolfred Nelson observes, with a fair measure of empathy, the dire conditions for building through the isthmus.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

With American colonial interests at risk, President Teddy Roosevelt brought a formidable combination of international government interference, American pressure, excessive manpower and millions of dollars in medical and engineering ingenuity to finally bring the Panama Canal into existence.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

This photographic plate from Albert Edward’s 1915 book, Panama: the canal, the country and the people, shows the SS Ancon successfully passing through the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf

Edward quotes Teddy Roosevelt’s telegram to the American people and the world on the next page:

“On behalf of the government and the people of the United States I express to you and through you to all concerned in the achievement, the intense gratification and pride experienced today. By the successful passage of vessels through the canal the dream of the centuries has become a reality. Its stupendous undertaking has been finally accomplished, and a perpetual memorial to the genius and enterprise of our people has been created. The fully earned and deserved congratulations of a grateful people go out to you and your colaborers.”

If you’d like to plunge deeper into the tale of the Panama Canal, please come visit the Wolfsonian-FIU library.




~ by "The Chief" on August 15, 2017.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: