Historical Publications about the Panama Canal

Featured Content April 25, 2016 - A collection of publications related to the Panama Canal

The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) partnered with the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida (UF) to make digitized versions of publications related to the Panama Canal published by the Panama Canal Commission, its predecessor agencies, and other Federal agencies widely available

About the Panama Canal

Over 100 years ago, an incredible engineering feat, the Panama Canal, officially opened to traffic on August 15, 1914. Called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the construction of the Canal removed enough earth and debris to bury Manhattan up to 12 feet. The 52 mile long waterway was completed on schedule and under budget at a cost to the United States of $352 million. The Canal dramatically changed shipping patterns by eliminating the long voyage around the Cape Horn and South America. Ships could now cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific in only 8 to 10 hours. By 1915, over 5 million tons of material passed through the Canal annually. The United States administered the canal and the surrounding Canal Zone until December 31, 1999. (Source: Panama Canal Museum (Source: Panama Canal Museum http://cms.uflib.ufl.edu/pcm/Home.aspx )

The United States Government controlled and operated the Panama Canal and the surrounding Canal Zone from 1904 through 1999. The Panama Canal Commission was the final Federal agency to manage, operate, and maintain the Canal. The Commission was created by the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977, and superseded the Canal Zone Government and the Panama Canal Company. The Commission operated the Canal until the expiration of the Panama Canal Treaty on December 31, 1999, when the Republic of Panama assumed full responsibility for the Canal.

Collection Highlights

The collection contains a variety of publications that give users a glimpse into the workings of the Canal and life in the Canal Zone. Users can now easily read the Canal Record, published weekly between 1907 and 1941 for the employees of the Isthmian Canal Commission and Panama Canal Commission, which contains a wealth of detail on life in the Canal Zone. The August 19, 1914 issue of the Canal Record, for example, contains a description of the first official trip through the Canal, lists of products available at the commissary with prices, rainfall totals for the week, as well information on Canal navigation.

The collection contains a host of other interesting government publications on the Canal. Just a small sampling of those titles include:

  • Annual Report of the Department of Sanitation of the Isthmian Canal Commission: published between 1908 and 1910, the report contains vital statistics such as death rates, hospitals in the zone, and on the mosquito brigades.
  • Manual of Information Concerning Employments for the Panama Canal Service: a 1916 publication that outlines requirements for employment as well as working hours, salary, transportation and the types of positions available.
  • The Code of Civil Procedure of the Canal Zone: a 1907 publication codifying the procedures for civil laws within the Canal Zone. The procedures deal with issues such as wills, guardians for minors, and rules of evidence.
  • Panama Canal Review: a monthly publication issued in the Canal Zone beginning in 1950. Similar to a newspaper for the Canal Zone, each issue covered events such as the delivery of electric stoves, news from the commissaries, statistics, and building updates.
  • El Canal de Panama: a 1984 Spanish language publication describing the Canal with photos and statistics.