Panama Canal Photograph Collection


Collection Summary

Title: Panama Canal Photograph Collection
Call Number: 95-19
Size: 2.0 linear feet
Acquisition: Purchased by Special Collections
Processed by: JEO, 4-13-1995; JEF, 12-18-1998; MN, 10-2008; MN, 7-2012

Literary Rights

Literary rights were not granted to Wichita State University. When permission is granted to examine manuscripts, it is not an authorization to publish them. Manuscripts cannot be used for publication without regard for common law literary rights, copyright laws and the laws of libel. It is the responsibility of the researcher and his/her publisher to obtain permission to publish. Scholars and students who eventually plan to have their work published are urged to make inquiry regarding overall restrictions on publication before initial research.


Content Note

The Panama Canal Photograph Collection contains images documenting the efforts of the French Universal Oceanic Canal Company to construct a canal across the Panamanian isthmus in the 1880s. The photographs depict the latter stages, when Ferdinand de Lesseps, president of the company and builder of the Suez Canal, quit the 168 million dollar contract only one-third completed. The photographs in this collection illustrate the enormity of the task encountered by the French canal company in their seven-year stint constructing the canal. Included are photographs of excavations, railroads for hauling off debris, laborers at work, and houses and bridges in Panama.


Administrative History

The French Universal Oceanic Canal Company (Compagnie universelle du canal interoceanique de Panama) endeavored to construct a canal across the Panamanian isthmus in the 1880s. Work began in 1881 but the canal proved much more complicated to build than the Suez Canal. Particularly disastrous were recurrent landslides into the excavations from the bordering water-saturated hills, and the death toll from tropical diseases. In the end, insufficient capital and financial corruption ended the project. The company declared itself bankrupt in December 1888 and entered liquidation in February 1889. The American government became authorized to transfer the property rights from the French Canal Company to the United States in 1903. A revolution later in 1903 caused Panama to split from Columbia and the new nation of Panama swiftly allied itself with the United States, relinquishing a ten mile swath across the Panamanian Isthmus for the construction and operation of a canal. After years of construction, hardship, and disease the Panama Canal was opened on January 7, 1914. The canal saved transportation costs and cut over 7873 miles of travel on the New York to San Francisco route.


Box and Folder Listing

Box 1 FF 1

Several workmen around a steam-powered crane excavating rubble from a deep ditch in the canal route at San Pablo, Lock 2. Photograph taken November 29, 1888. Caption: Ecluse No. 2 29 Nov 1888, San Pablo

Box 1 FF 2

Canal excavation site at Matachin, Lock 5, showing supports on unexcavated sections, rail tracks to haul rubble away and several workmen. Photograph taken November 27, 1888. Caption: Ecluse No. 5 27 Nov 1888. Matachin am

Box 1 FF 3

Muddy rubble strewn excavation of the canal route at Paraiso, Lock 7, showing railroad tracks and a gang of workmen. Photograph taken June 5, 1888. Caption: Ecluse No. 7 5 Juin 1888, Paraiso

Box 1 FF 4

Several groups of workmen laboring along canal excavation. Photograph taken June 5, 1888(?). Caption: Ecluse No. 7 5 Juin

Box 1 FF 5

Workmen in canal rut at Bohio Soldado that is deep enough to expose the underlying broken-up rock. Photograph taken November 22, 1888. Caption: Ecluse No. [illegible] Bohio Soldado. 22 Nov 1888

Box 1 FF 6

Workers hauling rubble and dirt out of a wide canal route at Miraflores, Lock 10. Photograph taken November 27, 1888. Caption: Ecluse No. 10 27 Nov 1888. Miraflores

Box 1 FF 7

Floor of the canal at Miroflores looking upstream. Workmen and equipment stand in the rubble and mud. Photograph taken June 9, 1888. Caption: Ecluse No. 10 9 Juin 1888. Miraflores (c) Tête Amont

Box 1 FF 8

Excavation procedures in the canal route at Miraflores. Photograph taken November 25, 1888. Caption: Ecluse No. 10 25 Nov 1888. Miraflores

Box 1 FF 9

Panoramic view of Culebra showing buildings and equipment, presumably a work station or residence for laborers. On back: Panorama de la Culebra. Caption: 34

Box 1 FF 10

Excavation procedures in the Panamanian jungle. Photo is not posed as workers are in movement. Caption: Preparation d’une attaque

Box 1 FF 11

Raised bunk houses for the workers at Culebra. Labeled on back: Culebra Maisons d’ouvriers.

Box 1 FF 12

Rolling cranes excavating stones blasted from the canal’s side. Floor of canal overgrown with foliage. Labeled on back: Las Cascadas. Caption: 50

Box 1 FF 13

Panoramic view of Culebra Cut showing workers' bunk houses, excavation equipment in the canal and the opposite side of canal. Labeled on back: Panorama Culebra 34. Caption: 35

Box 1 FF 14

Panama City, spread out along ocean shoreline. Labeled on back: Panama. [Illegible] de l'Hopital.

Box 1 FF 15

Panoramic view of Panama City scene along ocean shore. Labeled on back: Panama. [Illegible] de l'Hopital.

Box 1 FF 16

Panoramic view of Culebra Cut showing workers' bunk houses, excavation equipment and the canal route. Labeled on back: Panorama Culebra 36. Caption: 36

Box 1 FF 17

Metropolitan Cathedral in Panama City. Labeled on back: Panama Cathedral.

Box 1 FF 18

Workers posed in encampment at Tavervilla along canal route. Caption: Campement de Tavervilla

Box 1 FF 19

Railcars and rail mounted cranes excavating rubble from the canal route. Labeled on back: Bas Obispo, la butte Iona [illegible]. Caption: 65

Box 1 FF 20

Railcars and tracks leading into the canal excavation with housing and warehouse structures in background. Labeled on back: Kilometer [illegible] 120. Caption: 28

Box 1 FF 21

Canal excavation with railroad tracks, workers, railcars and housing in view. Labeled on back: Emperador. Caption: 43

Box 1 FF 22

Several groups of canal route excavation workers engaged in various aspects of project. Structures, including one under construction, are made of tree branches and leaves.

Box 1 FF 23

Railroad track at base of hill topped by several wooden structures. Off the tracks is railcar 55 and several workers. Labeled on back: San Pablo. [Illegible] de avant de la [illegible].

Box 1 FF 24

Track-mounted crane with a long boom excavating soil from one side of canal.

Box 1 FF 25

View of cleared path of the canal showing railcars, a ravine and a cow. Native grass huts at right contrast with wooden structures above them. Labeled on front: Tavermilla (a fairé). Caption: Tavermilla

Box 1 FF 26

Vegetated area along river bank with several wooden structures on opposite bank.

Box 1 FF 27

View of canal company headquarters located in Panama City. Sign on building reads: Compagnie Universelle Du Canal Interoceanique. Building constructed in 1875 and houses Panama Canal Museum in 2012.

Box 1 FF 28

View of construction of rail trestle bridge over excavated area and wooden bridge skimming excavation floor. Labeled on back: Obispo L'accident.

Box 1 FF 29

Two-story house above railroad tracks surrounded by smaller structures of varying styles. Two have thatched roofs.

Box 1 FF 30

View of railroad engine 156 and workers next to attached railcars on left bank of canal with settlement of varied houses and structures in background.

Box 1 FF 31

Small raised workers’ quarters adjacent to rail yard with larger maintenance structures, cranes and railcars. Labeled on back: Matachin.

Box 1 FF 32

Several tiers of railcars on railroad tracks illustrate depth of canal route excavation. Caption: 58

Box 1 FF 33

Several workers pose in front of engine 44 hauling railcars full of excavated rubble from the canal route followed by similar operation. Labeled on back: Matachin.

Box 1 FF 34

Workmen pose while loading rubble from excavation into railcars on one of several railroad tracks in the canal route. Labeled on back: Corozal. Caption: 14

Box 1 FF 35

Railroad station at Paraiso settlement along canal route. Caption: Paraiso.

Box 1 FF 36

Excavation at Matachin showing pooled water in excavated area and wooden supports on some areas where the soil has been removed. Workmen in background moving rubble from route onto railcars. Caption: Matachin

Box 1 FF 37

Reconfiguration in progress of second floor balcony of municipal building in Panama City, next door to the headquarters of the French canal company, Compagnie Universelle Du Canal Interoceanique. Labeled on back: Panama Le Palacio apres le [illegible].

Box 1 FF 38

Construction of rail station at Paraiso. Labeled on back: Paraiso le Gare.

Box 1 FF 39

Manuscript list of photograph locations and scenes along the canal route. Quantities are indicated. Document in French.

Box 1 FF 40

Manuscript list of locations, subjects and dates of photographs taken along the canal route by photographer Blanc. Three page document in French.

Box 1 FF 41

Manuscript list of locations, subjects and dates of photographs taken along the canal route. Document in French.

Box 1 FF 42

Clipping from French publication of photograph of Colon headquarters of the French canal company, Compagnie Universelle Du Canal Interoceanique. Statue of Christopher Columbus at front left. Caption: Colon. -- Hotel De La Compagnie

Box 1 FF 43

Clipping from French publication showing photograph of jail in Colon. Caption: Colon. -- Calabousse

Box 1 FF 44

Clipping from Illustrated London News, June 16, 1888, showing lithograph of excavating machine at Tavernilla on the canal route. Melton Prior is the artist and Tilby is the lithographer. Caption: Excavator at Work at Tabemilla (Tavernilla). Across Two Oceans: The Panama Ship Canal. -- Sketches by our special artist, Mr. Melton Prior

Box 1 FF 45

Clipping from Illustrated London News, June 16, 1888, showing lithograph of dredge at work at Bohio Soldado along the canal route. Caption refers to “Slaven” dredge of American contractors Henry B. and M. A. Slaven whose company was contracted to construct a portion of the canal and to divert the Chagres River. Melton Prior is the artist and Tilby is the lithographer. Caption: A “Slaven” Dredge at Work at Buhio: View Sketched From on Board.

Box 1 FF 46

Clipping from Illustrated London News, June 16, 1888, showing lithograph of workers digging channel to divert Chagres River. Melton Prior is the artist and Tilby is the lithographer. Caption: Cutting a Channel to Divert the Course of the River Chagres.