115 Years Ago…

Tomorrow marks 115 years since the official opening of the Panama Canal Zone. On May 4, 1904, Lieutenant Mark Brooke stood in front of the Hotel de la Compagnie, the headquarters of the Panama Canal Company, and ceremoniously read the following address:

I, Mark Brooke, officer of the Corps of Engineers of the Army of the United States of North America, declare and state the following:

To-day, the fourth of May, nineteen hundred and four, early in the morning, in my capacity as representative of the Governments of the United States of North America, I came into the building situated in the city of Panama, known in that city by the name of “Hotel de la Compagnie,” in which are located the central offices of the New Panama Canal Company, for the purpose of receiving in the name of my principal, the Government of the United States of America, all the properties, personal and real, of the above named company, which are located in the Isthmus of Panama.

After having shown my authority and instructions, the Director of the New Panama Canal Company made formal delivery to me of the said property, personal and real, in the following manner:

He delivered the keys of the buildings and inventories of the properties, called together the principal employees of the service, and in my presence gave them instructions to place at my orders all the material in the storehouses of the company, and the storehouses themselves, and finally, also in my presence, he sent by letter and telegraph the same order and instructions to all the employees of the company living in Colón and on the line between that city and Panama.

In consequence, I declare in the name of the Government of the United States of North America, which I represent in this act of transfer, that I acknowledge having received all the properties, personal and real, that belonged to the New Panama Canal Company, which have passed into the possession of the Government of the United States of North America, my principal.

This receipt is written and signed in French, English, and Spanish.

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The Hotel de la Compagnie, now the Panama Canal Museum


Living in the Canal Zone, were there any customs to recognize May 4? Did you celebrate any other anniversaries specific to the Canal Zone?


  • Laura Kosik

    As a 4th generation Zonian, I do not recall celebrating any anniversaries on this date. Ever. I so interesting to me! Thanks for sharing!

  • Carl N Berg of Cocoli

    Your intro states that May 4 marks the 115th anniversary of the official opening of the Panama Canal Zone. Yes, it is true that the name “Panama Canal Zone” is commonly used by historians, politicians, authors, commentators, museums, even Zonians, and others.
    The anniversary is celebratory of the small unincorporated territory leased by the US at the isthmus of Panama from newly independent Panama, not of the Canal itself, which was still about ten years from its official opening and enjoys its own anniversary date.
    I will likely be accused of making a federal case of the following, but May 4 will mark the opening, or establishment, of the Canal Zone and not the Panama Canal Zone. In the Zone, we had the CZ Police, CZ stamps, CZ schools, CZ Government, CZ Governor, the CZ seal, CZ penitentiary, and so forth.
    If you look it up, the Panama Canal Act of 1912, passed by the US Congress as the Canal project neared completion, made two important statements about names to be used with respect to the finished work at the Isthmus of Panama. First…”the leased territory is to be known and designated as the CANAL ZONE…”; and, second….”the nearly completed canal is to be known and designated as the PANAMA CANAL.”
    From the Act, it is very clear that the US Congress had no desire to bless the designation of its new Canal territory with the name of the host country, Panama.
    But the act did not diminish the importance of the host country, not at all.
    —Carl N Berg of Cocoli, CZ; co-author of The New Cocoli Dictionary, which is undergoing a revision and will be resubmitted to the Panama Canal Museum later this year.

  • Mimi Stratford Collins

    Both this post and Carl Berg’s additional information are quite interesting. Panama and the Canal Zone have histories that are well worth preserving in the context of their own time and place. Thank you 🙂

  • Lew

    In keeping with the clarification Carl has provides, I submit the following from a paper I am working on:

    “During the era of the Isthmian Canal Commission, from 1904 to 1914, there had been appointed six different Governors of the Canal Zone and three different Chief Engineers in charge of the construction of the Canal. These high level positions were distinct from one another and required communication and cooperation between them.

    On January 29, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson combined these two positions and nominated Coronel George W. Goethals to become the first Governor of The Panama Canal, the new name of the US government agency that would operate and maintain the Panama Canal and govern the Canal Zone.

    In the Annual Report of the Isthmian Canal Commission and The Panama Canal, dated June 30, 1914, Colonel Goethals relates the official change of the U.S. government agency from the Isthmian Canal Commission to The Panama Canal.”

    I grew up in the Canal Zone hearing, believing and repeating that George Goethals was the first Governor of the Canal Zone. And then found out many years later that this was not accurate.

    Thanks Carl.

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