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The Panama Canal

     In 1878 the Columbian government awarded a contract to build a canal across the isthmus to Lucien Wyse. Wyse sold the concession to the French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps whose plan to build a sea-level canal was a colossal disaster. In 1903, the United States, under Theodore Roosevelt, tried to buy the concession but Columbia refused. When a revolutionary group in Panama - then a province of Columbia - declared independence, the US supported the new government and sent battleships to protect them from Columbian troops, and quickly signed a treaty with Panama’s new leaders that awarded the United States "sovereign rights in perpetuity over the Canal Zone." Construction began almost immediately and the first ship sailed through on August 15, 1914. A new treaty was finally negotiated in 1977 that arranged for Panama to take possession of the canal on December 31, 1999.

     In 1887 Columbia issued two designs for stamps of various denominatons with the map of the Isthmus of Panama for the Department of Panama.

SCN Panama 11             SCN  Panama 15

 (Columbian State of Panama 15). Six years later Panama gained its independence from Columbia, and the stamp was reissued overprinted in red with a bar covering “Columbia” at the top and with “PANAMA” vertically on both sides of the stamp (Panama 78). In 1904 the overprinted stamps were further overprinted “CANAL ZONE” (Canal Zone 12). The specimen displayed shows an error in the “PANAMA” on the left side of the stamp printed as PAMANA.

SCN Canal Zone 12

     The following stamp shows the course of the Canal through the Isthmus of Panama. It was issued in 1915.

SCN 205

The stamps of the Republic of Panama were issued in 1930 and 1950.

SCN Republic of Panama C9                 SCN Republic of Panama C124

     The Salvadoran stamp was issued in 1924. The Cuban stamp was issued in 1914. The dotted lines on the Cuban stamp indicate sea routes to the Canal.

SCN 500                      SCN 257

    During the construction of the Canal in 1914 an island, Barro Colorado, was formed when the Chagres River was dammed and Lake Gatun was formed.
     In 1923 one of the first biological reserves in the Western Hemisphere was established on the island. At the research station scientists were able to study, observe and experiment in ideal surroundings. Since 1927, the island, known as the Canal Zone Biological Area, has been operated by the Smithsonian Institution.
     In 1966 the name was changed to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and its range of study was increased to include animal behavior, plant ecology, canopy biology, paleoecology, archaeology, evolution, genetics, marine ecology, anthropology and conservation science. The stamp, issued in 1948 for the 25th anniversary of the Canal Zone Biological Area, displays an outline map of the island, and a Coati Mundi, a 10 to 20 pound animal whose habitat is the mountains, forests, rocky wooded canyons, desert canyons and open forests.

SCN 141

     The Roosevelt Medal was issued as a result of an Executive Order dated June 23, 1907, by President Theodore Roosevelt. It recognizes service by American citizens on the Canal project who completed at least 2 years of satisfactory continuous service with the Canal construction force, including the Panama Railroad Company between May 4, 1904 and December 31, 1914. Both sides of the medal are shown. The map on the stamp shows the Canal Zone.

SCN 150