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For centuries, European nations sought a quicker oceanic passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific.  Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, sought a route through the Chargres River in the early 1500's.   Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Ulysses Grant also expressed interest in a waterway connecting the two great oceans.  Finally, in 1881, French Diplomat Ferdinand de Lessepes, the successful developer of the Suez Canal, began work on the canal.  France was unprepared for the effort: from the Panamanian climate to the region's devastating tropical diseases.  Malaria and yellow fever would cause the deaths of some 22,000 workers.  After eight years and $287 million spent, the French effort collapsed and went bankrupt.

In January of 1903, the United States negotiated an annual $10 million perpetual lease with Columbia, who controlled the Isthmus of Panama where the canal was to be located.  By November of that year, Panama declared its independence from Columbia, a move the United States was quick to recognize. In 1904, the U.S. purchased the French equipment and excavations, including the all-important Panama Railroad. By May of that year, America formally took control of the canal area and began to consider engineering designs while building the necessary infrastructure to house the thousands of workers needed. To complete the canal, the United States would have to remove an additional 170 million cubic yards of material above what the French had already excavated. Ten years and $500 million dollars later, the U.S. formally opened the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914.

To partially fund the construction, Congress authorized three separate bonds: a 1906 2% issue, a 1908 2% issue, and a 1911 3% issue.  The three series were fifty-year issues, available as both registered and bearer bonds, and raised $134.6 million.  Over a century later only three bonds are known.  The Herbstman Memorial Collection is proud to feature a $1000 Registered Bond from the 1911 issue.

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 1911  ONE Thousand DOLLAR Registered TREASURY BOND

3%  Fifty-year Maturity

$50 Million Issued


This fifty-year registered security features engravings of the U.S. Capitol and Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish explorer, governor, and conquistador who was the first European to cross the Isthmus of Panama in 1513.  This bond is currently the only known example of the 1911 series, and one of two known Panama issues.  As the French construction of the canal failed, numerous Franc-denominated securities have survived bearing the signature of Ferdinand de Lesseps.

Likely Unique

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1908 Treasury Department Circular No.73

The Panama Canal Bond Issue


To fund the construction of the Panama Canal, the United States issued three series of bonds: a 2% issue in 1906, a second 2% bond in 1908, and a final 3% issue in 1911. This Treasury Department Circular explains the terns of the 1908 Issue.


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1908 Series 2% Treasury Dept. Panama Canal Bond Bid Form

Copyright The Joe I. Herbstman Memorial Collection of American Finance 


All Rights Reserved

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