1915-S Pan-Pac Round Fifty Dollar, MS65
1915-S $50 Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round MS65 PCGS Secure.
The 1915-S Panama-Pacific gold coins actually represent two
tremendous construction projects. One was the 34-year-long
gargantuan construction of the Panama Canal itself; the other was
the rebuilding of the City of San Francisco in the decade following
the horrific Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.
Only Two Finer at PCGS
The French symbolically began the disastrous Panama Canal effort in 1880; actual construction began in 1881. One of the first French missteps was putting the French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps in charge of the Panama Canal. De Lesseps was a French national hero, called Le Grand Français (the great Frenchman) by his countrymen, for his completion (in 1869) of the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea through Egypt -- a flat, level passage through a desert. De Lesseps thought a similar canal could be constructed at sea level through the Isthmus of Panama. De Lesseps only visited Panama once, during the dry season -- its rainy season lasts nine months a year -- and he failed to take into account the huge tidal forces of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans on either side of the Isthmus.
The two canals, Suez and Panama, could not have been more different in quality and scope.
Panama was a combination of thick, impenetrable jungle infested with mosquitos, a high mountain range called the Cordillera, and foremost of all the torrential Chagres River. It was 1888 before the French company in charge went bankrupt, after an expenditure of several hundred million francs and the loss of 20,000 lives due to flooding, accidents, mudslides, malaria, and, most of all, the dreaded yellow fever.
That the Americans succeeded where the French had failed was due to a few key personnel. John F. Stevens (1853-1943) was a brilliant railroad engineer, responsible earlier in his career for building the Great Northern Railway. Arriving in Panama, he soon realized the folly of a sea-level canal, which would be subject to continual flooding from the Chagres. He returned to Washington and personally convinced President Theodore Roosevelt that only a system of engineering hydraulic locks to raise the ships to cross the Cordillera, through the area known as the Culebra Cut, would prevent the American project from meeting the same disaster as had the French. Stevens also recognized that the basic problems of the canal were organizational and logistical. The removal of millions of cubic tons of earth and rock would require complete retooling of the Panama Railway, which had been built in the 1850s.
And the workforce, skilled and unskilled, to accomplish these tasks had to be enormously augmented. To that end, Stevens implemented community planning and educational systems, oversaw the recruiting of thousands of new laborers, developed mosquito-eradication programs to combat yellow fever, and devised ingenious railroad innovations. He invented a giant swinging boom mounted on a railroad flatcar that could move yards of track at a time without the need for disassembly. And he arranged the cut through the mountain at Culebra so that gravity would help railcars remove the tons of spoilage on each side of the cut, going uphill empty and downhill full.
But Stevens abruptly resigned in 1907, infuriating President Roosevelt. Roosevelt hired an Army engineer as his replacement. George Washington Goethals was not only a fine engineer, he was also an expert in hydraulics -- a skill that railroad engineer Stevens lacked, and crucial to the eventual building of the giant hydraulic locks that would raise and lower oceangoing vessels moving through the canal.
Another key to the Panama Canal success was Colonel William P. Gorgas, who realized that yellow fever, the scourge of Panama, was caused by disease-bearing mosquitos, not by unsanitary conditions. Gorgas' mosquito-eradication program finally saved the thousands of workers' lives that would have previously been lost to yellow fever and malaria (also a mosquito-borne ailment).
It is fitting that the United States' largest gold commemorative coins of the classic era, the 1915-S Pan-Pac fifties, were issued to observe the monumental advances in science, engineering, and medicine that the Panama Canal brought about.
The rebuilding of San Francisco in the decade following the disastrous 1906 earthquake and fire not only made it a noteworthy locale for the Panama-Pacific exposition, it also turned San Francisco into a world-class destination for travel and tourism, a status that it continues to build upon today.
Marking the great 1915 exposition is this impressive Panama-Pacific round $50 gold piece. Both sides exhibit the usual soft, frosty yellow-gold mint luster, and lack the typical surface abrasions that are normally encountered on these large gold coins. Population: 25 in 65 (4 in 65+), 2 finer (11/16).
From The Azalea Collection.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# BYHP, PCGS# 7451)
Weight: 83.59 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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