One Hundred Years
The American Era of the Panama Canal

May 4, 1904

Photo: United States Military Academy
Class of 1902 Yearbook

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 employes 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 employes of the company living in Colon 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.

Mark Brooke,
2nd Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers,

Acquisition Day, May 4, 1904

In Paris, final arrangements for the purchase of the New Panama Canal Company's rights by the United States had been completed.  On the Isthmus, Major Black, not realizing the advanced state of the purchase negotiations, obtained leave of absence and returned to the United States with the Commission.  He was naturally ambitious to become chief engineer and to build the Panama Canal.

Apparently without the knowledge of Major Black, Secretary of War Taft, anticipating an early exchange of the properties, authorized Lieutenant Brooke late in April to act in conformity with the instructions he would receive from the United States representative in Paris.  On May 3 the instructions came.  They directed him to receive all the Canal properties on the Isthmus from the New Panama Canal Company, except the Panama Railroad, and he prepared to take over the following day.

Early the next morning Lieutenant Brooke and Director General Renaudin; W.W. Russell, United States Chargé d'Affaires; Mr. J.W. Lee, Secretary of the United States Legation; Consul-General H.A. Gudger; and Dr. Claude C. Pierce, of the United States Public Health and Marine Hospital Service, were all assembled at the old Grand Hotel, which housed the French offices.  Brooke read a declaration he had drafted, signed a $40,000,000 receipt to Renaudin for the French Canal holdings on the Isthmus at 7:30 A.M., and hoisted "Old Glory" over the building—an event that caused May 4, 1904, to become known as Acquisition Day.

This young second lieutenant, just two years out of West Point, cabled his action to the Commission then sitting at Washington and took charge.  To the old employees he sent a circular announcing that he had taken possession for the United States and requesting them to continue in their positions.

The new organization comprised 746 employees at a monthly pay roll of $15,000 gold; they were organized into a Director General's Office, Disbursing Office, Sanitary Service, Supply and Material Department, Land and Building Department, and Engineering Department, all reporting to the Director General.  Equipment included 2,148 French buildings, numerous files and records, and a tremendous quantity of machinery and rolling stock.  The buildings included the magnificent Ancon Hospital, the Administration Building in Panama City, the Taboga Sanatorium, the Dingler residence (Casa Dingler) on La Boca Road, and the residence of the Director General, used later for many years as the home of the United States Legation in Panama.

From:  And the Mountains Will Move, Miles P. DuVal, Jr., Stanford University Press, Stanford University, CA, 1947. pp. 132-133.

"Yesterday morning Lieutenant Brooke, nephew of General Brooke, U.S.A., in accordance with instructions of the United States Government took possession of the New Panama Canal Company's property on the Isthmus and OLD GLORY was hoisted at the central office of the extinct French Company in this city, thus publicly demonstrating that the transfer had taken place.

The old employees of the Company have been requested to continue in their present positions until further notice."

- Star & Herald, May 5, 1904

This brief notice was the only description or explanation of this historic event of 100 years ago today, marking the start of the greatest single enterprise of its nature ever undertaken up to that time by the United States Government. The same amount of space was devoted to the event in the Spanish language section of Panama's oldest newspaper, while only one paragraph was used to tell the story in French - the paper then being trilingual.

The ceremony marking the transfer of the second French Canal Company's rights and properties occurred at 7:30 o'clock on the morning of May 4,1904. It took place at the Company's headquarters located in the building then known as the Hotel de la Compagnie which is now the Panama Post Office Building [Ed: Now - 2004 - this building is the home of the Interoceanic Canal Museum].

Lieutenant Mark Brooke was selected to represent his Government in the absence of Maj. William M. Black, then in charge of an engineering party on the Isthmus, who had just sailed for New York. The formal transfer was somewhat hastily arranged after clearance in Paris of the final legal technicality of approval by the stockholders in the New French Canal Company.

The famous forty-million-dollar receipt was signed in English, French, and Spanish by Lieutenant Brooke and the resident director of the French Canal Company.

From:  The Panama Canal Review

May 2, 2004