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The Panama Railroad:
1865, 1868 & 1871 Certificates of Stock; an 1855 Newspaper Report of its Opening; 1861 & 1913 Maps; Early Harper's Engravings; and 1861 Schedule of Regular, Special and "Steamer" Trains.

Panama Railroad Stock Certificate, 1865
Panama Railroad Stock, 1865

Panama Railroad Stock Certificate, 1868
Panama Railroad Stock, 1868
Courtesy Bob Kerstein Collection - Scripophily - Railroad Stock Certificates.

January 28, 1855: 
The Panama Railroad opens.

Panama Railroad Opens January 28, 1855
From the Portland Maine Transcript [Newspaper], February 17, 1855.
Courtesy Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

Completed in 1855, fourteen years before the rails were joined at Promontory Summit, Utah, the Panama Railroad was the first railroad to traverse the continent and so also has a claim on the title of "first transcontinental railroad."  The Panama Railroad was a great improvement over traveling and carrying mail overland through the Panama jungle.  The Central Pacific Railroad had to be built with supplies shipped by sea from the east to the west coast and the Panama railroad was an shortcut alternative to sailing supplies around Cape Horn.  Theodore Judah also died of tropical disease as a result of crossing Panama, and Lewis Metzler Clement's wife traveled on the Panama Railroad to reach California to join her husband while he built the Central Pacific Railroad across the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Railroad company shares comprised most of the stocks traded in the 19th century. At $295 a share, the Panama Railroad was at one time the highest-priced stock on the New York Stock Exchange.

A current project is underway to rehabilitate and modernize the 143-year old transcontinental railroad, the Panama Canal Railway Company.

Panama Railroad Stock Certificate, 1871
Courtesy Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

Panama Railroad and Canal Map, 1913
Panama Railroad and Canal 1913 Map
Map of the Panama Canal and Panama Railroad by Everett E. Winchell from a 1913 booklet published by the Remington Typewriter Company to promote the then upcoming 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition which was held in San Francisco between February 20 and December 4, 1915.

Courtesy Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

Illustrated history of the Panama Railroad.
by Fessenden Nott Otis
Otis - Panama Railroad


Otis - Panama Railroad

Otis - Panama Railroad

Otis - Panama Railroad

Additional Engravings.

Otis - Panama Railroad

Otis - Panama Railroad

Otis - Panama Railroad
Panama Railroad Timetable

Courtesy Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

Images courtesy of:

Panama Railroad Completed, 1855.
1855 account of the opening of the Panama Railroad with freight rates.
The Western Journal and Civilian.
Vol. XIII, No. 6. M. Carver & T. Cobb, Editors and proprietors,
St. Louis, Missouri, May, 1855. Courtesy Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

Panama RR in perspective

by Wendell Huffman

The Panama Railroad played a role in the history of the Central Pacific, as well as the handful of railroads built in California and Oregon even earlier.

The obvious role played by the Panama Railroad in the Central Pacific's construction is that vital material was "rushed" to California via Panama. This included rail and 18 locomotives, as well as tools and such mundane things as nuts and bolts for bridges. It cost significantly more than sending things on ships via Cape Horn, but once things shaped up as a race with the Union Pacific, the time saved was believed worth the cost. However, as I pointed out in my article "Railroads shipped by sea" in Railroad History (back in 1999), it may not have made much difference – at least in terms of locomotives – since parts of different engines became so jumbled up in repeated loadings and unloadings that they really weren't able to get new engines up in Sacramento much sooner than those that made the long transit via the Cape.

On the other hand, the Panama Railroad (and before it, the other routes across Central America) played an important role in enabling businessmen in California to communicate and plan with businessmen in the East. Charles Wilson, the man "behind" the Sacramento Valley and the California Central railroads made as many as three trips in one year between San Francisco and New York – arranging financing, ordering material, and hiring skilled workers. I believe one of those trips even included a side trip to London. Lester Robinson, California railroad and mining capitalist, made something like 19 crossings of the Isthmus between 1854 and 1869 in conducting his business. I wonder if anyone would have taken the trouble if they had had to go all the way around the Cape. Disregarding the issue of comfort and danger, the New York trip via the Isthmus required roughly one month, while the voyages via the Cape that I have tracked averaged five months (one absolutely terrible trip took 360 days!)

In fact, the issue of comfort and danger could not be ignored by those actually making the trip. The saving of lives was often mentioned as justification for a Pacific railroad. In fact, travelers between California and the East could die crossing the plains as easily as crossing the Isthmus or rounding the Horn. However, there were a number of spectacular ship losses that contributed to the general sense of danger in the sea legs of the journey. The loss of the Central America between Panama and New York in 1857 actually contributed to a financial panic (it went down with a nice fat load of California gold). While sailing between Liverpool and New York (rather than on the Panama route), the loss of the Arctic (in 1854) pretty much killed the Benicia & Marysville National Railroad by taking with it that company's agent who had gone to London to arrange financing (and that certainly contributed to the failure to build a Pacific railroad in the 1850s).

We all know that Theodore Judah died as a result of a tropical disease contracted in crossing Panama (his 10th crossing of the Isthmus). His death undoubtedly effected the history of the Pacific railroad. So, too, did the crossings of the Isthmus by California Congressman/Seantor James McDougall. McDougall – at one time a director of the Sacramento Valley Railroad – got sick nearly every time he travelled between San Francisco and Washington, often requiring months of recovery. McDougall was involved in several attempts to pass Pacific railroad legislation, and ultimately it was his bill which finally passed in 1862. Who knows how much his negative experience on the Panama crossings effected his motivation on behalf of a continental Pacific railroad.
[from the R&LHS Newsgroup]

Poors RR Manual 1868
From "Manual of the Railroad of the United States, for 1868-69 ... "
by Henry V. Poor, New York, H.V. & H.W. Poor, 1868. Courtesy Douglas van Veelen.

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