The Edward A. Drake Papers are primarily comprised of correspondenceby officials of the Panama Railroad Company (mostly dating from 1905through 1927), and by notable Panamanian politicians and governmentministers (total of 62 folders). Content is personal with some referencesto Panamanian political events of the time, as well as to the railroadbusiness.
An additional eight folders include a few personal letters by EdwardDrake; condolence letters written to Drake's wife, Jeanette Louise, afterhis death; newsclippings about Drake and the Panama Railroad Company; andsome photographs and pictures relating to the company and the Panama Canal(U.S. steamships in the Culebra Cut, company headquarters, etc.).
The collection is completed by an official Panama souvenir of asection of railroad tie, a leatherbound volume of illuminated resolutionspresented by the Panama Railroad Company to Mrs. Drake in honor of Drakeafter his death, and finally, a music score entitled, "Himno National de laRepublica de Panama" signed by Juan Domingo de Obaldia, president of Panama(1907, 1908-1910).
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Edward Alson Drake was born in Boston, September 15, 1845. His fatherwas American and his mother, English. During his childhood, the Drakesmoved to New York where he was educated in the city's public schools.
Drake was awarded a scholarship to New York University, but was tooyoung to accept. After a brief stint as a school teacher he entered thebanking and brokerage business with his brother in 1859, under the firmname of Drake Brothers, later known as Drake and Carter.
Interested in the railroad construction in the South and Midwest,Drake was eventually elected director of the Panama Railroad Company in1888. Hitherto he had served as governor of the New New York StockExchange, from 1880 to 1887. Drake continued his membership on the StockExchange until 1893 when he retired to devote his time to the RailroadCompany which he served in the following successive capacities until hisdeath: assistant secretary and treasurer, 1892; secretary, 1893; assistantgeneral manager and secretary, 1898; second vice-president, 1899; secretaryand treasurer, 1906; and vice-president, 1907.
On January 9, 1873, Drake married Jeanette Louise Bell, the daughterof a fellow banker, William J. Bell. They had two sons, the youngest ofwhom died from illness in childhood. The elder, Alfred E. Drake eventuallyparticipated in his father's business, and was appointed acting secretaryof the company in 1908 in the absence of Thomas Rossbottom.
Drake died in New York at the age of eighty-one, on January 5, 1927.
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A railroad across the Isthmus of Panama was born out of the necessityfor improved transportation of the multitudes heading west to Californiaat the onset of the Gold Rush in 1848. The narrow Isthmus had previouslyinspired Spanish conquistadors in 1501 to construct a road linkingsettlements on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in order to facilitatetransportation of treasures from the west coast of South America to Spanishgalleons off the Atlantic cost. The road, known as the Camino Real or royalroad, proved too slow and hazardous, and as early as 1520, the Spanishinvestigated the possibility of a canal.
It was not until 1848, however, that steps toward an alternative tothe road crossing developed. A group of enterprising New York businessmen,perceiving the potential of an Isthmian rapid transit system, founded thePanama Railroad Company and petitioned the government of Colombia, then NewGranada, for a concession under which they could open a railway (that itwas eventually decided would breach the distance between Panama and thetown of Colon).
The American petitioners were lead by W.H. Aspinwall (after whom Colon was renamed by the Americans, although the former continued to be used by the Panamanians in honor of Columbus), Henry Chauncey, and John L. Stephens. A formal agreement was signed between Stephens and the secretaryof state for New Granada, Don Victoriano de Diego Paredes, on April 15,1850. The first through train from coast to coast ran on the completedtrack on January 28, 1855. From the start, the Panama Railroad Companyprospered, boosted as it was by traffic during the Gold Rush years.
Interest in a canal continued throughout the rest of the nineteenthcentury. Various sites were considered by Britain, France and the US.Routes through Nicaragua and Panama proved the two most popular and contentious. Certainly in the US, business groups competed with each other over one or the other of the two routes. In the 1830s President Andrew Jackson had sent Charles A. Biddle as emissary to investigate both possibilities, but the project ended when Biddle abandoned his mission to negotiate with Colombian capitalists for a private concession.
In 1846, a US-Colombian treaty, known as the Bidlack-Mallarino Treaty, was concluded and even ratified to facilitate the US presence in Colombia during construction of a canal. However, this venture was complicated by the clash of interests in Nicaragua between Britain and the US and never came to fruition.
Meanwhile, French attention had been attracted to the idea of a canalacross Panama. Rights were obtained from Colombia, then a colonist ofPanama, and in 1879 a French company was formed led by Ferdinand de Lesseps(builder of the Suez Canal) to construct the canal. The company purchasedmost of the stock of the Panama Railroad Company, which nevertheless continued under American management. The French canal venture was aborted in January 1889 as a result of continuous health hazards and, ultimately, bankruptcy.
When the Panama canal project was taken up again, this time by the US,construction rights and concessions were secured by the succession ofwell-known treaties beginning with the Hay-Herran Treaty in 1903 signedbetween US secretary of state John Hay and Colombian president PedroHerran and providing the US with a 100-year lease of the Canal Zone. USinterest in Panama was to encourage that country's eventual secession fromColombia later that year.
With financial assistance arranged by Philippe Bunau-Varilla, aFrenchman representing the interests of the defunct de Lesseps company, agroup of prominent Panamanian nationals led by Jose Augustin Arango, anattorney for the Panama Railroad Company, organized a revolutionary junta.
The other junta members included Manuel Amador Guerrero (who was to be thefirst constitutional president of Panama) and Carlos C. Arosemena. InOctober and November 1903, with the aid of US naval forces, the junta led asuccessful uprising against the Colombian government. The outcome of thisUS-Panamanian collaboration was the signing and ratification of theHay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, approved by the US Senate on February 23, 1904,which rendered Panama a de facto protectorate of the US and granted thelatter use, occupation, and control of the Canal Zone "in perpetuity."
Construction of the Panama canal began in 1904, conducted by the USArmy Corps of Engineers under the guidance of Col. George Goethals. Theproject was further strengthened by the US government purchase of capitalstock of the Panama Railroad Company which eventually benefited from thedevelopment of a shipping line, known as the Panama Railroad and SteamshipLine. On August 15, 1905, the first ship crossed the completed canal. ThePanama Canal follows the basic line of the original Panama railroad.
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This collection is divided into four series (see Synopsis): IndividualCorrespondence; Edward A. Drake Correspondence and Personal Files;Newsclippings and Photographs; and Muniments / Oversized Items.
Extent: 0.75 linear feet, 1 box + 1 small flat box
Provenance: Acquired from Doris Harris Autographs, November 1989.
Processed by: Lisette C. Matano
Date: April 4, 1990
BULK DATES: 1905 - 1927
SPAN DATES: 1852 - 1981
EXTENT: 0.75 linear feet