January 28, 1855 - Panama Railroad

Harper's New Monthly Magazine, January 1859

*  Why do we care about a railroad in Panama?

*  On January 24, 1848, John Marshall discovered gold in the American River, near Coloma, California. This was the beginning of the Gold Rush of '49.

*  Miners flocked to California from all across the country, at times traveling months overland.

*  From the East coast, they would often travel by sea, sailing around Cape Horn at the tip of South America or to Panama and then through the jungle to the Pacific and another boat ride to California.

*  The Panama Railroad changed all that...

*  Work began in May 1850, to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by a railroad covering 47 miles of jungle, rivers and swamps, often in drenching rains.

*  Sand-flies, snakes, poisonous insects and alligators were the least of the problems. Thousands of men died due to cholera, dysentery, yellow fever and smallpox.

*  Despite the loss of life, the intolerable working conditions, the logistic difficulties and the immense engineering obstacles, the railroad began operation on January 28, 1855 (some 28 years before the first train arrived in San Bernardino).

*  The railroad was an immediate success and later played a vital role in the construction of the Panama Canal.