Chapter LII
American Industries and The Canal
Canal Army's Recreations


If it be true that those who originate and devise the pastimes of a people are counted among the benefactors of mankind, then those who devoted themselves to the task of providing the means for rational relaxation and amusement for the army of men engaged in the construction work of the Isthmian Canal deserve recognition as having, in no small degree, contributed to the final successful completion of that undertaking.

Among the various forms of amusement provided by the Isthmian Canal Commission for recreation and the promotion of the moral and mental well being of the workers were the two most popular indoor pastimes, billiards and bowling.

During the work there were introduced into the canal territory in the various Y.M.C.A. club houses, gymnasiums and amusement places, under the supervision of A.B. Dickson, forty-two carom and six pocket billiard tables and eighteen bowling alleys.

From time to time all-Isthmian carom and six pocket billiard tournaments, as well as many local tournaments, were held, participated in by from 30 to 100 members.  Bowling tournaments were held continually, and often as many as 150 men entered in these contests, from 20 to 30 in each town where alleys were located.

Bowling, especially, was very popular on the zone, helping to keep the men contented and furnishing a light form of exercise greatly appreciated by them.

This line of amusement equipment was furnished from the factories of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, the products of whose shops are well known and whose business activities are world-wide.

In spite of the tropical climate, all forms of athletic recreation were in vogue, exactly as in the States.  The base ball nine, picked from the best players among the young Americans, played some remarkably sharp games, and the tennis courts were often thronged.   Bathing was, of course, a favorite amusement, and prizes for fancy swimming, diving, etc., were offered.  With uniforms and outfits furnished by A. G. Spalding & Bros., the athletes of the Isthmus were as well equipped and up-to-date as those in the United States, and the scenes at the base ball, handball, tennis, and other contests were exactly like those at home.

Featured prominently among the provisions made for the amusement and entertainment of the canal officials and employees was the continuous presentation under government auspices of the magnificent spectacles known for many years in the States in connection with the name of "Pain."  For more than a quarter of a century, the Pain Fireworks Display Company has given its exhibitions of pyrotechnics in every part of this country, as well as abroad, while in Mexico it is even in greater favor among the pleasure-loving people whose counterpart is to be found in the native population of the Isthmus.

The president and principal owner of the Pain Fireworks Display Company, Harry Bishop Thearle, was for twenty-five years manager of the old company, while its destinies were in the hands of the founder.  when the old company failed and Mr. Pain returned to England, Mr. Thearle bought out the business and proceeded to build it up into a strong and durable institution.  Under his control its reproductions of historical events have become famous the world over.  Among the more notable are, "The Battle in the Clouds," "The Last Days of Pompeii," "Mount Vesuvius," and "Pioneer Days," as well as at least ten others equally well-known, and as popular today as when they were first produced.

The Pain Fireworks Display Company has factories in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.   during the past few years its expansion has been such that scarcely a celebration of any importance in the United States or Canada is without one of its exhibits.

A firm which contributed to the peace of mind and comfort of the men on the Canal Zone was Theobald & Oppenheimer Company, of Philadelphia.  This firm was the pioneer, and now stands at the head of the field as manufacturers of fine domestic cigars of national reputation.

The success of this company is due to John J. Kolb, a native of the quaint old village of Sandhausen, Baden, Germany, where he made a special study of tobacco and its attributes.   On coming to this country he began his career as a cigar maker, becoming   identified with his present firm as superintendent in 1896.  The firm at that time was a small concern employing some forty or fifty hands.

From the inception of this connection, Mr. Kolb introduced methods in manipulation and handling of tobacco thereto unknown in this country, thereby revolutionizing the cigar industry, increasing the character and style of manufacture, and bring to the fore the finest product to that time seen on this country's market.

As manager and president of the concern, the guidance of which has been his care and study, he has seen one factory of a few hands grow by leaps and bounds, until he wields the reins over a vest enterprise of his own building, operating numerous factories and employing twenty-five hundred hands.

Philip Morris cigarettes, the world's oldest high grade of Turkish cigarettes, made by Philip Morris & Company, Ltd., of New York City, were used in enormous quantities by the canal army, natives of all the countries represented on the Canal Zone using them constantly.  The "Brown Box" in which this tobacco was packed was a familiar object along the route of the canal. 


History of the Panama Canal by Ira E. Bennett
Historical Publishing Company, Washington, DC, 1915

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Presented by CZBrats
February 12, 1999

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