Linda Hall Library Celebrates the Centennial of One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World: The Panama Canal

Library opens Panama Canal exhibition April 8; announces year-long centennial programs and lecture series, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough. A working scale model of a canal lock—created in partnership with graduate students at the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering—will be displayed on the Library’s front lawn

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The S.S. Cristobal on the return trip through the Panama Canal, August 4, 1914.

With his volume of dramatic photographs, blueprints and detailed journals, Nichols left behind an invaluable first draft of the Panama Canal’s history.

Kansas City, MO (PRWEB) March 05, 2014

The Linda Hall Library— the world's foremost independent research library devoted to science, engineering and technology — announces the opening of a special exhibition and lecture series celebrating the centennial of the Panama Canal’s opening in 1914.

The Library’s centennial exhibition —The Land Divided, The World United: Building the Panama Canal — invites visitors to see more than 100 selected artifacts from the Panama Canal’s construction that haven’t been accessible to the public in nearly 80 years. The exhibition opens April 8 and will continue through December 31.

The Linda Hall Library houses an exceptionally complete archive documenting America’s involvement in the construction of the Panama Canal from the perspective of one individual: A.B. Nichols, one of the first American engineers to arrive at the construction site in 1904. Nichols meticulously documented the Panama Canal’s construction until its completion in 1914.

An Audacious Gamble
It was an audacious gamble that took more than 40 years and 42,000 workers to blast, dredge and excavate one of the greatest engineering triumphs connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Heralded as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the Panama Canal opened in 1914 as a symbol of America’s innovation and emergence as a global superpower.

To celebrate the Panama Canal’s centennial in 2014, the Linda Hall Library — located majestically on a 14-acre urban arboretum in Kansas City, Missouri — will recount the development of the Panama Canal with its epic triumphs and tragedies with the Library’s year-long calendar of free public events and programs, including:

  •     A special centennial exhibition – The Land Divided, The World United: Building the Panama Canal – to showcase the Library’s world-renowned Panama Canal archives with artifacts that haven’t been seen in nearly 80 years, including original photographs, hand-colored drawings, maps, letters, diaries, journals, postcards and news clippings.
  •     A working model of a canal lock created in partnership with graduate students at the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering will be displayed the north lawn of the Linda Hall Library. The scale model, complete with water and model ships, will invite visitors to experience the mechanical ingenuity of the canal’s construction (opens April 8)
  •     A series of free public lectures featuring eminent historians and engineers, including acclaimed historian and Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, author of the bestseller, The Path Between the Seas (Oct. 2, 2014; reservations required)
  •     An educational website with an interactive version of the Panama Canal centennial exhibition, lecture videos, and a digitized version of the complete Panama Canal archive to make the Library’s collection accessible to scholars, researchers and educators around the globe (September 2014)

Nearly Lost: A First Draft of Panama Canal History
The Linda Hall Library’s centennial exhibition —The Land Divided, The World United: Building the Panama Canal — invites visitors to see more than 100 selected artifacts from the Panama Canal’s construction that haven’t been accessible to the public in nearly 80 years.

When the Engineering Societies Library in New York closed in 1995, the Linda Hall Library received the bulk of its holdings, including its rare Panama Canal archives donated by the daughter of A. B. Nichols, one of the first American engineers to arrive at the construction site in 1904. Nichols meticulously documented the Panama Canal’s construction until its completion in 1914. This extensive collection remained in storage, uncatalogued and inaccessible to scholars and researchers.

“Until its arrival at the Linda Hall Library, this invaluable Panama Canal collection was as good as lost,” said Lisa Browar, president of the Linda Hall Library. “If collections are not cataloged, they cannot be found. And researchers and scholars can’t use what they can’t find.” Funded by a Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Park Service, the Linda Hall Library has restored the collection and created finding aids to assist researchers wishing to use it.

“With his volume of dramatic photographs, blueprints and detailed journals, Nichols left behind an invaluable first draft of the Panama Canal’s history,” Browar said. The Linda Hall Library’s complete A.B. Nichols collection includes 1,200 original photographs, 1,300 blueprints and schematic, 100 maps, 250 letters and memoranda, and dozens of hand-colored sketches and drawings, journals, postcards and news clippings.

“In the pre-spreadsheet days, A.B. Nichols kept meticulous and fascinating records detailing every aspect of the Panama Canal’s construction, from material costs to the amount of dynamite used to blast the land and the cubic tons of earth moved,” said Eric Ward, curator at the Linda Hall Library.

“The Linda Hall Library is an integral part of Kansas City’s arts and culture community,” said Tom McDonnell, president and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. “We are fortunate to be home to such an extensive archive documenting the Panama Canal’s construction housed in a world renowned library devoted to expanding our collective understanding and exploration of science and technology.”

The Land Divided, The World United: Building the Panama Canal
The Linda Hall Library’s centennial exhibition will highlight the myriad of fascinating technological, social and political facets in the construction of the Panama Canal, including:

  •     History of the Isthmus: Since the 16th century, the small isthmus between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans led explorers to search for a passage between the seas.
  •     Life in the Trenches: Workers in the Canal Zone faced constant hardships: backbreaking work, social inequalities, and the relentless fear of infectious disease.
  •     The French Attempt: The French began construction of a sea-level canal in Panama in the 1880s. Thousands died of malaria and yellow fever. Obstacles became insurmountable, forcing the French to abandon the project in the early 1890s.
  •     The Panama Railroad: The railroad was essential for carrying people and supplies and hauling away the tremendous volume of excavated dirt and rock.
  •     The American Achievement: The U.S. acquired rights to the Canal Zone in 1903, and a year later began building a lock canal 50 miles across the Isthmus. Completed in 1914, the Panama Canal shortened the distance for ocean-going freight and passengers traveling between U.S. east and west coasts by more than 8,000 miles.

Panama Canal Lecture Series
In tandem with its Panama Canal centennial exhibition, the Linda Hall Library will host a series of free public lectures (advance reservation required) featuring eminent engineers and historians:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 (6 p.m., Linda Hall Library)
The Panama Canal Expansion Project
Alberto Aleman Zubieta, former CEO, Panama Canal Authority, 1996-2012

Thursday, May 8, 2014 (7 p.m., Linda Hall Library)
Rails Across Panama: From ‘49ers to 40-foot Containers
Peter Hansen, editor, Railroad History, and
Michael Haverty, Executive Chairman, Kansas City Southern

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 (7 p.m., Linda Hall Library)
Big-Ship Ready: The Post-Panamax Era
Dr. Geraldine Knatz, Executive Director, Port of Los Angeles

Thursday, September 18, 2014 (7 p.m., Linda Hall Library)
The Panama Canal Watershed: Commerce & Ecology of the Tropical Ecosystem
Dr. Jefferson Hall Staff Scientist, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama

Thursday, October 2, 2014 (7 p.m., Unity Temple on the Plaza)
The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal
David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian

Online Exhibition To Extend Global Access to Collection
This fall, the Linda Hall Library will launch a permanent website containing a digital version of its Panama Canal centennial exhibition. The interactive site will include enhanced content including a digitized version of its complete A.B. Nichols Collection, video recordings of related lectures, illustrated curatorial essays, and interactive maps and timelines of the Panama Canal’s development. The new website will be a platform for educators, researchers and scholars across the globe to benefit from access to the Linda Hall Library’s rich archive documenting the Panama Canal’s construction.

Community Screening of PBS American Experience Documentary
In collaboration with the Kauffman Foundation, the Linda Hall Library will hold a community screening of the PBS American Experience documentary: Then & Now: The Panama Canal, at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 2. The documentary features archives from the Linda Hall Library’s A.B. Nichols collection.

Panama Canal Centennial Partners
The Linda Hall Library’s exhibition and lecture series are the centerpiece of Kansas City’s centennial celebration of the Panama Canal, made possible with support from the Library’s Centennial Partners:

  •     Everglades Foundation
  •     Harry Portman Trust
  •     Harry S. Truman Library and Museum
  •     Institute of Museum and Library Services
  •     Kansas City Public Television
  •     Kansas City Southern Railroad
  •     National Archives – Kansas City
  •     National Parks Service
  •     The Kauffman Foundation
  •     UMB Bank Trustee
  •     United Engineering Societies Foundation
  •     University of Kansas Medical Center
  •     University of Missouri-Kansas City

About the Linda Hall Library
The Linda Hall Library is the world's foremost independent research library devoted to science, engineering and technology. A not-for-profit, privately funded institution, the Library is open to the public free of charge. Since 1946, scholars, researchers, academic institutions and businesses throughout around the world have accessed the Linda Hall Library's collections to learn, investigate, invent, explore and increase knowledge. Hundreds of people of all ages attend the Library's public programs each year to expand their awareness and understanding of science and technology. The 14 acres surrounding the Linda Hall Library are maintained as an urban arboretum open to the public for education and enjoyment. To learn more, visit http://www.lindahall.org.

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