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Message of The President on the Panama Canal
Communicated to the two Houses of Congress
by President Theodore Roosevelt
December 17, 1906


Recreation and Amusement

One of the greatest needs at present to provide amusements both for the white men and the black.  The Young Men's Christian Association is trying to do good work and should be in every way encouraged.  But the Government should do the main work.  I have specifically called the attention of the Commission to this matter, and something has been accomplished already.  Anything done for the welfare of the men adds to their efficiency, and money devoted to that purpose is therefore properly to be considered as spent in building the canal.  It is imperatively necessary to provide ample recreation and amusement if the men are to be kept well and healthy.  I call the special attention of Congress to this need.

This gathering, distributing, and caring for the great force of laborers is one of the giant features of the work.  That friction will from time to time occur in connection therewith is inevitable.  The astonishing thing is that the work has been performed so well and that the machinery runs so smoothly.  From my own experience, I am able to say that more care had been exercised in housing, feeding, and generally paying heed to the needs of the skilled mechanics and ordinary laborers in the work on this canal than is the case in the construction of new railroads or in any other similar private or public work in the United States proper; and it is the testimony of all people competent to speak that on no other similar work anywhere in the Tropics -- indeed, as far as I know, anywhere else -- has there been such forethought and such success achieved in providing for the needs of the men who do the work.

I have now dealt with the hygienic conditions which make it possible to employ a great force of laborers and with the task of gathering, housing, and feeding these laborers.   There remains to consider the actual work which has to be done; the work because of which these laborers are gathered together -- the work of constructing the canal.   This is under the direct control. of the Chief Engineer, Mr. Stevens, who has already shown admirable results, and whom we can safely trust to achieve similar results in the future.

Our people found on the Isthmus a certain amount of old French material and equipment which could be used.  Some of it, in addition, could be sold as scrap iron.   Some could be used for furnishing the foundation for filling in.  For much no possible use could be devised that would not cost more than it would bring in.

Work of Construction

The work is now going on with a vigor and efficiency pleasant to witness.  The three big problems on the canal are the La Boca dams, the Gatun dam, and the Culebra cut.   The Culebra cut must be made anyhow; but of course changes as to the dams, or at least as to the locks adjacent to the dams, may still occur.  The La Boca dams offer no particular problem, the bottom material being so good that there is a practical certainty, not merely as to what can be achieved, but as to the time of achievement.   The Gatun dam offers the most serious problem which we have to solve; and yet the ablest men on the Isthmus believe that this problem is certain of solution along the lines proposed; although of course, it necessitates great toil, energy, and intelligence, and although equally, of course, there will be some little risk in connection with the work.   If the huge dam now contemplated is thrown across from one foothill to the other we will have what is practically a low, broad, mountain ridge behind which will rise the inland lake.  This artificial mountain will probably show less seepage, that is, will have greater restraining capacity than the average natural mountain range.  The exact locality of the locks at this dam -- as at the other dams -- is now being determined.   In April next Secretary Taft, with three of the ablest engineers of the country -- Messrs. Noble, Stearns, and Ripley -- will visit the Isthmus, and the three engineers will make the final and conclusive examinations as to the exact site for each lock.   Meanwhile the work is going ahead without a break.

The Culebra cut does not offer such great risks; that is, the damage liable to occur from occasional land slips will not represent what may be called major disasters.  The work will merely call for intelligence, perseverance, and executive capacity.  It is, however, the work upon which most labor will have to be spent.  The dams will be composed of the earth taken out of the cut and very possibly the building of the locks and dams will take even longer than the cutting in Culebra itself.

In Culebra Cut

The main work is now being done in the Culebra cut.  It was striking and impressive to see the huge steam shovels in full play, the dumping trains carrying away the rock and earth they dislodged.  The implements of French excavating machinery, which often stand a little way from the line of work, though of implements of French excavating machinery, which often stand a little way from the line of work, though of excellent construction, look like the veriest toys when compared with these new steam shovels, just as the French dumping cars seem like toy cars when compared with the long trains of huge cars, dumped by steam plows, which are now in use.  This represents the enormous advance that has been made in machinery during the past quarter of a century.  No doubt a quarter of a century hence this new machinery, of which we are now so proud, will similarly seem out of date, but it is certainly serving its purpose well now.  The old French cars had to be entirely discarded.  We still have in use a few of the more modern, but not most modern, cars, which hold but 12 yards of earth.  They can be employed on certain lines with sharp curves.  But the recent cars hold from 25 to 30 yards apiece, and instead of the old clumsy methods of unloading them, a steam plow is drawn from end to end of the whole vestibuled train, thus immensely economizing labor.   In the rainy season the steam shovels can do but little in dirt, but they work steadily in rock and in the harder ground.  There were some 25 at work during the time I was on the Isthmus, and their tremendous power and efficiency were most impressive.

New Records for Excavation

As soon as the type of canal was decided this work began in good earnest.  The rainy season will shortly be over ad then there will be an immense increase in the amount taken out; but even during the last three months, in the rainy season, steady progress is shown by the figures:  In August, 242,000 cubic yards; in September, 291,000 cubic yards, and in October, 325,000 cubic yards.  In October new records were established for the output of individual shovels as well as for the tonnage haul of individual locomotive crews, just such a spirit as has grown on our battle ships between the different gun crews in matters of marksmanship.  Passing through the cut the amount of new work can be seen at a glance.  In one place the entire side of a hill had been taken out recently by 27 tons of dynamite, which were exploded at one blast.  At another place I was given a Presidential salute of 21 charges of dynamite.  On the top notch of the Culebra cut the prism is now as wide as it will be; all told, the canal bed at this point has now been sunk abut 200 feet below what it originally was.  It will have to be sunk about 130 feet farther.  Throughout the cut the drilling, blasting, shoveling, and hauling are going on with constantly increasing energy, the huge shovels being pressed up, as if they were mountain howitzers, into the most unlikely looking places, where they eat their way into the hillsides.

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February 12, 1999

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