Guide to Federal Records

Records of the Panama Canal


(Record Group 185)
1848-1984

OVERVIEW OF RECORDS LOCATIONS

Table of Contents

  • 185.1 ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY
  • 185.2 RECORDS OF THE PANAMA RAILROAD COMPANY 1848-1958
  • 185.3 RECORDS OF THE COMPAGNIE UNIVERSELLE DU CANAL INTEROCEANIQUE AND THE COMPAGNIE NOUVELLE DU CANAL DE PANAMA 1879-1904
  • 185.4 RECORDS OF THE NICARAGUA CANAL BOARD AND THE NICARAGUA CANAL COMMISSION 1895-99
  • 185.5 RECORDS OF THE FIRST ISTHMIAN CANAL COMMISSION (SECOND WALKER COMMISSION) 1880-1904
  • 185.5.1 Records of the Washington, DC, Headquarters
  • 185.5.2 Records relating to the Nicaragua route
  • 185.5.3 Records relating to the Panama route
  • 185.5.4 Records relating to the Darien route
  • 185.6 RECORDS OF THE SECOND ISTHMIAN CANAL COMMISSION 1904-16
  • 185.7 RECORDS OF THE PANAMA CANAL 1851-1960 (bulk 1904-60)
  • 185.8 RECORDS OF THE CANAL ZONE GOVERNMENT AND THE PANAMA CANAL COMPANY 1904-82
  • 185.9 RECORDS RELATING TO HEALTH CONDITIONS IN THE PANAMA CANAL ZONE 1883-1977
  • 185.10 CARTOGRAPHIC RECORDS (GENERAL) 1870-1955
  • 185.11 MOTION PICTURES (GENERAL)
  • 185.12 SOUND RECORDINGS (GENERAL)
  • 185.13 STILL PICTURES (GENERAL) 1887-1979

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185.1 ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

Established: Panama Canal Commission, as an independent agency, effective October 1, 1979, by the Panama Canal Act of 1979 (93 Stat. 452), September 27, 1979, superseding the Canal Zone Government and the Panama Canal Company.

Predecessor Agencies:

  • Nicaragua
  • Interoceanic Canal Commission (U.S., 1872-76)
  • Provisional Interoceanic Canal Society (1881)
  • Nicaragua Canal Association (1887)
  • Maritime Canal Company of Nicaragua (U.S. charter, 1889-93)
  • Nicaragua Canal Board (U.S., 1895)
  • Nicaragua Canal Commission (U.S., 1897-99)
  • Nicaragua-Panama
  • First Isthmian Canal Commission (U.S., 1899-1902)
  • Panama
  • Panama Railroad Company (NY charter, 1849-1951)
  • Societe Civile Internationale du Canal Interoceanique (French, 1876)
  • Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique (French, 1881-89)
  • Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama (French, 1894-1904)
  • Second Isthmian Canal Commission (U.S., 1904-14)
  • The Panama Canal (U.S., 1914-51)
  • Canal Zone Government (U.S., 1951-79)
  • Panama Canal Company (U.S., 1951-79)
Functions: Operates and maintains the Panama Canal and associated facilities in cooperation with the Republic of Panama, until the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977 terminates on December 31, 1999, and sovereignty over the canal is assumed by the Republic of Panama.

Finding Aids: James B. Rhoads, comp., Preliminary Inventory of the Cartographic Records of the Panama Canal, PI 91 (1956); Richard W. Giroux, comp., and Garry D. Ryan, rev., Preliminary Inventory of the Textual Records of the Panama Canal, PI 153 (1963); supplement in National Archives microfiche edition of preliminary inventories.

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185.2 RECORDS OF THE PANAMA RAILROAD COMPANY
1848-1958

History: Incorporated by the New York State legislature, April 7, 1849, to build and operate a railroad across the isthmus of Panama. Acquired by Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique, 1881, and by Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama, 1894. Purchased by the United States as part of the assets of Compagnie Nouvelle, April 23, 1904, under authority of the Panama Canal (Spooner) Act of 1902 (32 Stat. 481), June 28, 1902. Reincorporated by the United States as the operating arm of The Panama Canal by the Panama Canal Railroad Company Act (62 Stat. 1076), June 29, 1948. Renamed the Panama Canal Company by act of September 26, 1950 (64 Stat. 1038). Superseded by the Panama Canal Commission, 1979. SEE 185.1.

Textual Records: Minutes of meetings of the board of directors, 1849-1938, and of the executive and finance committee, 1849-1904. Microfilm copy of board minutes of the Panama Railroad Company, 1938-51 (2 rolls). Letters sent, 1849-1904. General correspondence and administrative files, 1888-1920, with card index. Selected records from general correspondence and administrative files, 1920-53. Selected records from the administrative correspondence file of the Executive Office, letter files, and the closed and open correspondence file, 1931-58. Microfilm index to New York office records, 1918-49 (13 rolls). Stock registers, 1854-1914. Cancelled stock certificates, 1851-1948, with gaps. Miscellaneous legal and fiscal records, 1848-1916.

Photographs (375 images): Panama Railroad Company collection of French canal scenes and scenes along the railroad from Aspenwall to Panama City, 1880-1905 (R). SEE ALSO 185.13.

Related Records: Records of early Panama Railroad Company real estate transactions in records of the Joint Land Commission files, under 185.7. Record copies of publications of the Panama Railroad Company in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.

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185.3 RECORDS OF THE COMPAGNIE UNIVERSELLE DU CANAL INTEROCEANIQUE AND THE COMPAGNIE NOUVELLE DU CANAL DE PANAMA
1879-1904

History: Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique incorporated under French law, March 3, 1881. Declared bankrupt and dissolved by Tribunal Civil de la Seine, February 4, 1889. Assets and property vested in Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama, incorporated October 20, 1894. Compagnie Nouvelle purchased by the United States, April 23, 1904, under authority of the Panama Canal (Spooner) Act of 1902 (32 Stat. 481).

Textual Records: General records, 1879-1904.

Maps (7,834 items): General maps of the Panama Canal route, 1881- 1900 (154 items). Detailed maps and plans of the canal, 1881-97 (6,790 items). Cross sections, profiles, and area maps, 1889-95 (493 items). Excavation profiles, 1897 (85 items). Sectional maps, 1899 (46 items). Published maps and portfolios of the Technical Committee, 1899 (44 items). Maps of Lago de Alhajuela and Lago de Bohio, 1898 (12 items). Area maps, 1894-99 (50 items). Fluviographs showing river levels at several stations, 1884-99 (160 items). SEE ALSO 185.10.

Engineering Plans (16 items): French railroad equipment apparently used at the canal site, 1887. SEE ALSO 185.10.

Photographs (27 images): Construction activities of the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique, 1881-88 (F). SEE ALSO 185.13.

Related Records: Issuances, 1880-89, and hydrographic and meteorological records, 1892-99, of the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama, under 185.5.1 and 185.5.3.

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185.4 RECORDS OF THE NICARAGUA CANAL BOARD AND THE NICARAGUA CANAL COMMISSION
1895-99

History: Maritime Canal Company of Nicaragua, chartered by U.S. Congress, February 20, 1889, assumed the concession to build a canal across Nicaragua originally assigned to the Nicaragua Canal Association, 1887. Operations suspended for lack of funds, 1893. Nicaragua Canal Board, also known as the Ludlow Commission after its chairman, Col. William Ludlow, appointed by President Grover Cleveland, April 25, 1895, to ascertain the feasibility of completing the Nicaragua Ship Canal begun by the Maritime Canal Company. Board report, October 31, 1895, recommended a thorough reexamination of the route. President William McKinley appointed the Nicaragua Canal Commission (first Walker Commission), under Rear Adm. John G. Walker, July 29, 1897, which surveyed the route of the canal, December 1897-February 1899, and submitted its report in March 1899.

Textual Records: Papers of the Nicaragua Canal Board, 1895. Papers, 1897; fiscal correspondence, 1898-99; estimates of construction costs, 1897-99; field notes of surveying parties, 1897-98; and hydrographic and meteorologic records, 1898, of the Nicaragua Canal Commission.

Maps (447 items): Published and manuscript maps, profiles, and cross sections of surveys of projected canal routes across Nicaragua; profiles of dams, embankments, and wasteways; and harbor plans for Greytown (San Juan del Norte) and Brito, 1895-99 (447 items). SEE ALSO 185.10.

Related Records: Hydrologic and meteorologic observations of the Maritime Canal Company and the Nicaragua Canal Commission, 1887- 93; and additional field notebooks of the Nicaragua Canal Commission, 1898-99, under 185.5.2. Record copies of publications of the Maritime Canal Company and the Nicaragua Canal Commission in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.

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185.5 RECORDS OF THE FIRST ISTHMIAN CANAL COMMISSION (SECOND WALKER COMMISSION)
1880-1904

History: Appointed, June 10, 1899, to investigate the most practical route for an interoceanic canal under U.S. ownership and control. Surveyed routes through Nicaragua, Panama, and the Isthmus of Darien. Initially (Nov. 1901) recommended the Nicaraguan route, but upon offer of liquidator of the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama in December 1901 to sell its assets and rights to the United States for $40 million, issued a supplemental report, January 18, 1902, recommending the adoption of the Panama route.

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185.5.1 Records of the Washington, DC, Headquarters

Textual Records: Telegrams and cablegrams, 1899-1904. Estimates of construction costs, 1900-1. Issuances of the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama, 1880-89.

Maps (125 items): Canal lock construction plans, 1900-4 (24 items). Maps and other materials relating to the proposed canal routes; the effect of an isthmian canal upon trade routes, industry, and natural resources; and the harbor of Greytown, Nicaragua, assembled to accompany the report of the commission, 1901 (88 items). Cross sections of locks for the proposed Nicaragua and Panama canals, to accompany the appendixes to the commission report, 1901 (13 items). SEE ALSO 185.10.

Related Records: Record copies of publications of the first Isthmian Canal Commission in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.

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185.5.2 Records relating to the Nicaragua route

Textual Records: Letters sent and received by the chief engineer of surveys, 1899-1901. Letters sent by the boring superintendent, 1899-1901. Weekly boring reports, 1899-1901. Journals of boring and surveying parties, 1900-1. Correspondence and miscellaneous records of the commissary officer, 1900-1. Registers of supplies, 1898-99. Letters sent and received by the engineer and assistant engineer, Middle Division, 1899-1901. Field notebooks of surveys, 1898-1901, including some initiated by the Nicaragua Canal Commission, 1898-99. Hydrographic and meteorologic records, 1887- 1901, including hydrologic and meteorologic observations made by the Nicaragua Canal Commission and a few observations by its predecessor, the Maritime Canal Company of Nicaragua.

Maps (870 items): Manuscript and blueprint maps, cross sections, and profiles of the Nicaragua canal route, 1899-1900 (240 items). Manuscript and published maps, and manuscript profiles and cross sections, of the Eastern Division (304 items), Middle Division (196 items), and Western Division (84 items), of the Nicaragua canal route, 1899-1901. Manuscript bore hole location maps, and boring profiles and cross sections, 1899-1901 (46 items). SEE ALSO 185.10.

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185.5.3 Records relating to the Panama route

Textual Records: Field notes of surveys, 1899-1901. Hydrographic and meteorological records, 1892-1901, including records compiled by the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama, 1892-99.

Maps (178 items): Manuscript maps, profiles, and cross sections of the Panama canal route, 1899-1901 (158 items). Manuscript bore hole location maps, and boring profiles and cross sections, 1899- 1901 (20 items). SEE ALSO 185.10.

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185.5.4 Records relating to the Darien route

Textual Records: Field notes of surveys, 1899-1901.

Maps (96 items): Manuscript and blueprint maps, and manuscript profiles and cross sections, of surveys of routes through Darien and San Blas, 1899-1901. SEE ALSO 185.10.

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185.6 RECORDS OF THE SECOND ISTHMIAN CANAL COMMISSION
1904-16

History: Appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, March 8, 1904. By Presidential order, May 9, 1904, under authority of the Panama Canal Act of 1902 (32 Stat. 481), June 28, 1902, and the Panama Canal Act of 1904 (33 Stat. 429), April 28, 1904, Secretary of War made supervisor of canal construction and second Isthmian Canal Commission vested with all Canal Zone government power. Abolished, effective April 1, 1914, by EO 1885, January 27, 1914, pursuant to the Panama Canal Act of 1912 (37 Stat. 560), May 24, 1912, with governmental functions assumed by permanent organization designated as The Panama Canal. SEE 185.7.

Textual Records: General correspondence, 1904-14 (186 ft.). Annual reports and monthly reports, 1904-14. Weekly progress reports, 1904-10. Daily statistical reports, 1912-16.

Maps (15 items): Plans of canal lock construction, 1912 (9 items). Colored plates published by the commission showing the route of the Panama Canal and the topography of adjacent areas, 1913 (6 items). SEE ALSO 185.10.

Photographs (647 images): Construction of the Panama Canal's Pacific terminals, east breakwater works, Cristobal Coaling Plant Works, and the operation of floating cranes, 1911-16 (HR). SEE ALSO 185.13.

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185.7 RECORDS OF THE PANAMA CANAL
1851-1960 (bulk 1904-60)

History: Established under the direction of the Secretary of War, by EO 1885, January 27, 1914, effective April 1, 1914, as a permanent government of the Canal Zone and as operating agency for the Panama Canal, superseding the second Isthmian Canal Commission. Secretary of the Army superseded Secretary of War as supervising agent for the United States by EO 10101, January 31, 1950. By an act of September 26, 1950 (64 Stat. 1038), effective July 1, 1951, The Panama Canal was abolished, its civil government functions were assigned to the Canal Zone Government, and its operating functions were transferred to the Panama Railroad Company, redesignated the Panama Canal Company.

Textual Records: General correspondence (Washington Office), 1904-49. General records, 1914-60 (1,248 ft.). File classification system index, n.d., to general records, 1914-60. Microfilm cards containing information on pre-1914 records that were redesignated according to the 1921 file scheme ("Removal File Cards"), n.d. (5 rolls). Records removed from the general correspondence of the second Isthmian Canal Commission and the general records of The Panama Canal, 1904-60, and arranged alphabetically by name of subject ("Alpha Files") or by name of individual ("99 Files"). Governors' circulars, 1914-51, with microfilm copy (2 rolls). Monthly reports of operating units, 1914-50. Annual reports, 1914-50. Minutes of meetings between the Panamanian commissioners and representatives of the State Department relating to the negotiation of the 1936 Treaty, 1934-36; and minute enclosures to 1936 Treaty Negotiations, 1934-36. Records of the Joint Land Commission, 1851-1933. Third Locks Project reports, 1942-45 (in Atlanta). Records of the Special Engineering Division (in Atlanta), including reports relating to the Third Locks Project, 1938-54; isthmian canal study memorandums, 1940's; report, prepared pursuant to the Panama Canal Investigation Act (59 Stat. 663), December 28, 1945, on increasing the capacity and security of the canal, 1947; specifications for construction of the New Gatun Locks, 1941-43; and reports, papers, and proceedings from outside sources relating to the Panama Canal, 1946-48.

Maps (67 items): Maps and plans of canal locks, 1931. (6 items). Maps and blueprints from the Joint Land Commission files, 1851-1933 (61 items). SEE ALSO 185.10.

Architectural and Engineering Plans (17,225 items): Battery Alexander MacKenzie, Balboa Heights, CZ, 1917 (18 items). Lock designs, in folios, with accompanying reports, 1943-44 (17,200 items, in Atlanta). Third Locks Project, to accompany a report (Jan. 17, 1944) to the Secretary of War, 1943-44 (7 items, in Atlanta). SEE ALSO 185.10.

Photographs (14,898 images): Operation and development of the Panama Canal Zone, 1938-60 (CZ, 7,800 images). Activities from the Isthmian Canal Studies. 1946-48 (ICS, 1,500 images). Special projects and events at the Panama Canal, 1906-60 (SP, 5,598 images). SEE ALSO 185.13.

Photographs (14,898 images): Operation and development of the Panama Canal Zone, 1938-60 (CZ, 7,800 images). Activities from the Isthmian Canal Studies. 1946-48 (ICS, 1,500 images). Special projects and events at the Panama Canal, 1906-60 (SP, 5,598 images). SEE ALSO 185.13.

Photographic Prints (10,625 images, in Atlanta): Gatun Locks relocation, 1940-43 (1,125 images, in Atlanta). Third locks projects, 1940-45 (TL, 9,500 images). SEE ALSO 185.13.

Photographic Negatives (4,500 images): Third locks projects, 1940-45 (TLN).

Related Records: Record copies of publications of The Panama Canal in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.

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185.8 RECORDS OF THE CANAL ZONE GOVERNMENT AND THE PANAMA CANAL COMPANY
1904-84

History: The Canal Zone Government and the Panama Railroad Company, renamed the Panama Canal Company, designated as the civil government and operating agency, respectively, of the Canal Zone and the Panama Canal, effective July 1, 1951, by an act of September 26, 1950 (64 Stat. 1038), replacing The Panama Canal. Superseded by the Panama Canal Commission, 1979. SEE 185.1.

Textual Records: Records of the Panama Canal Company Board of Directors, consisting of minutes, transcripts, and other records of meetings, 1948-78; correspondence and other records relating to individual board members and to operations of the company, 1948-79; and records of the Budget and Finance Committee, 1963- 79. Microfilm copy of subject index, n.d. (19 rolls), and a name- subject index, n.d. (10 rolls), to general records, 1904-79. Subject classification index, n.d., to general records postdating 1960. General correspondence (Washington Office), 1950-74. Personal correspondence of successive governors of the Panama Canal Zone, from George W. Goethals (1914-17) through Harold R. Parfitt (1975-79), including records of Goethals as Engineer-in- Chief and Chairman of the second Isthmian Canal Commission (1907- 14), with biographical sketches and background information, 1907- 81. Mixed files relating to contract laborers, 1905-37. General orders, 1951-61, with microfilm copy (1 roll). Executive regulations and transmittal sheets, 1951-66, with microfilm copy (2 rolls). Isthmian canal planning memorandums, 1947-67 (in Atlanta). Canal studies, 1963-78 (in Atlanta). Memorandums of the Office of Interoceanic Canal Studies, 1952-71 (in Atlanta). Canal widening project files, 1948-69 (in Atlanta). Correspondence relating to studies on a new nuclear-excavated canal, 1952-71 (in Atlanta). Sea level canal project engineering records, 1960-72 (in Atlanta). Records of the Office of the Executive Secretary relating to negotiations for the 1955 Treaty, 1953-55. Records relating to investigations by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) into the Canal Zone riots of January 1964, including general correspondence, reports, and transcripts of hearings, 1964; and (in Atlanta) segregated politically sensitive correspondence and presentations before the OAS and ICJ, 1964. Monthly reports of operating units of the Canal Zone Government and the Panama Canal Company, 1951-60. Annual reports of the Canal Zone Government and the Panama Canal Company, 1951-59. Resolution establishing the Panama Canal Company, 1952. Records of the Canal Zone Board of Registration, 1954-80. Marine Traffic Control System contract files, 1961-77 (in Atlanta). Notary public signature cards, 1922- 82, with microfilm copy (1 roll). Press clippings, 1963-64 (in Atlanta). Microfilm copies of board minutes of the Panama Canal Company, 1951-69 (3 rolls); and verbatim board minutes, 1952-68 (3 rolls). General records of the Palo Seco Hospital (Leprosarium), 1907-62. Reports relating to leper patients, 1921-64. Miscellaneous correspondence relating to the Palo Seco Hospital (Leprosarium), 1916-71.

Maps (1 item): Panama Canal Zone and vicinity, 1957. SEE ALSO 185.10.

Maps and Charts (20 items): Blueprints of plats and site plans for Battery Mackenzie, Fort Sherman, 1917-72 (19 items); and drawing titled "Plan de L'Hopital Central de Panama, 1881," presented to the hospital superintendent on January 1, 1918 by the chief health officer (1 item).

Architectural and Engineering Plans (236 items): Excavations at Bas Obispan-San Luis Cascade Reaches, 1964 (235 items, in Atlanta). Battery Alexander MacKenzie, Balboa Heights, CZ, 1972 (1 item). SEE ALSO 185.10.

Aerial Photographs (400 items, in Atlanta): Panama Canal, 1946. SEE ALSO 185.10.

Motion Pictures (30 reels): Documentary footage, 1956-79, including riots, 1959 and 1964, student demonstrations, 1976 and 1977, and visits by President Jimmy Carter, June 1978, and Vice President Walter Mondale, September 1978.

Sound Recordings (175 items): OAS and ICJ hearings concerning the Canal Zone riots (January 9, 1964), 1964 (29 items). Meetings of the Board of Directors and special committees of the Panama Canal Commission, 1978-84 (146 items).

Related Records: General records, "Alpha Files," and "99 Files," 1951-60, under 185.7. Record copies of publications of the Canal Zone Government and the Panama Canal Company in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government. Records of the Atlantic- Pacific Interoceanic Canal Study Commission, 1965-70, in RG 220, Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards.

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185.9 RECORDS RELATING TO HEALTH CONDITIONS IN THE PANAMA CANAL ZONE
1883-1977

Textual Records: Annual reports of the Health Bureau, 1883-1977. Proceedings of the Canal Zone Medical Association, 1908-27.

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185.10 CARTOGRAPHIC RECORDS (GENERAL)
1870-1955

Maps: Microfiche copies (105 mm) of maps from the Special Panama Collection of the Canal Zone Library and Museum, selected to illustrate the history of U.S. government surveying and construction activities, 1870-1955.

SEE Maps UNDER 185.3, 185.4, 185.5.1, 185.5.2, 185.5.3, 185.5.4, 185.6, 185.7, and 185.8. SEE Architectural and Engineering Plans UNDER 185.7 and 185.8. SEE Engineering Plans UNDER 185.3. SEE Aerial Photographs UNDER 185.8.

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185.11 MOTION PICTURES (GENERAL)

SEE UNDER 185.8.

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185.12 SOUND RECORDINGS (GENERAL)

SEE UNDER 185.8.

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185.13 STILL PICTURES (GENERAL)
1887-1979

Photographs (18,794 images): Construction, operation, and history of the Panama Canal, 1887-1940 (G, 10,000 images). Panama Railroad Company/Panama Canal Company construction and ceremonial events, 1937-60 (C, 6,585 images). Riots and demonstrations in the Panama Canal Zone and the Republic of Panama, 1964-79 (PR, 2,209 images).

Photographic Prints (163 images): Student riots in the Canal Zone, Panama, 1964 (SR).

Panoramic Photographic Prints (4 images): Early construction of Panama Canal, ca. 1905 (P).

Slides (36 images): Black and white lantern slides showing views of various vessels which passed through the Panama Canal, including a merchant ship, the SS Marne; the crane ship Atlas; and an Army launch, the Gen. Morgan Lewis, ca. 1920-40 (LS).

SEE Photographs UNDER 185.2 and 185.3. 185.6, and 185.8. SEE Photographic Prints UNDER 185.7.


Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
3 volumes, 2428 pages.

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This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1995.


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