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fated enterprise was launched that, before a stroke of work had been done and immediately upon their issuance, these founders' shares sold at 80,000 francs each, and towards the close of 1880 the price had risen to 380,000 francs. Although there never were any profits realized by the Company, approximately $1,000,000 were paid out on this account in 1883.
The Panama Canal Company was capitalized at $80,000,000 and at the first call a sum much in excess of this amount was offered, the great majority of the subscribers being poor people. The Paris Congress had estimated the cost of the Canal at $214,000,000 and many of the members considered the figures too low. They were altogether too high for De Lesseps and the speculators who were associated with him. Early in 1880 he went to the Isthmus with a technical commission for the purpose of making the final surveys and locating the exact line of the Canal. The work was done in a perfunctory manner, the party only remaining upon the ground a few weeks, but the commission made a new estimate of the cost of the operation, which it placed at $168,600,000. De Lesseps assumed the responsibility of reducing these figures by nearly $40,000,000 in order that the proposition he was presenting to the public might have a more attractive aspect. Together with this fanciful calculation, was issued an equally unfounded statement of the returns to be expected from the operation of the waterway when completed. The promoters declared that, on a conservative estimate, 6,000,000 tons of traffic, yielding $18,000,000, might be relied upon for the first year.
The capital stock of the Company having been subscribed for, a number of engineers and other experts were sent to Panama to make precise and practical surveys and to ascertain the actual conditions that existed. All the previous work in this direction, from the time of Wyse's so-called "
survey,” which only covered twothirds of the distance across the Isthmus, but on which, nevertheless, an estimate of cost had been based, to the examinations of the technical commission, had been hasty and slipshod. After the public had subscribed millions to the enterprise on the definite representations of the promoters, the Company set about learning the facts in the case and arriving at something like a sound basis for estimates of cost and time of construction. This, however, was for their own information, and not with any idea of enlightening the investors.
In 1882, actual construction was commenced and several thousand laborers were put to work along the entire length of the line. Then graft, extravagance, immorality and disease began to pervade the scene. Froude, describing conditions after a visit to the seat of the French operations, declared: “In all the world there is not, perhaps, now concentrated in any single spot so much swindling and villainy, so much foul disease, such a hideous dung heap of moral and physical abomination, as in the scene of this far-famed undertaking of the nineteenth century.”
No preparation had been made for the sanitation of a region which at that time had a reputation of the worst in this respect. When they realized the necessities of the case, the French were not slow in affording all the medical aid and hospital accommodations possible. But these were of little avail in the state of ignorance that prevailed as to the sources of yellow and malaria fever. The hospitals soon became known as foci of the former disease, as we can easily understand now, when we know that their verandahs and wards were filled with large plants in pots that stood in earthen basins filled with water. The French cultivated flowers extensively about their dwellings and buildings and each flower pot afforded an ideal breeding place for mosquitoes, that conveyed the yellow fever and malaria germs. The fight against these diseases was a hopeless one under the circumstances.
Money was spent with an open hand, but without judgment or knowledge of the requirements. Vast quantities of machinery and supplies were shipped to the scene with no object other than the profit of the manufacturers or dealers in France. A great deal of this material was never used, but allowed to rust and decay at different points along the line. Thousands of buildings were put up, many of them unnecessarily. Extravagant salaries were paid, and unjustifiable perquisites allowed.
Dr. Wolfred Nelson, who was at Panama during the greater part of the French occupancy, has the following to say with regard to the graft and extravagance that characterized the work:
“ Some eighteen months ago M. de Lesseps announced to the world that five great contracting firms had pledged themselves to deliver the canal cut to tide level... I have information from a source that I know to be reliable, that the great contracting firms mentioned had placed to their credit before commencing work the handsome sum of $1,000,000 each, which they were allowed to expend for the purchase of the plant deemed necessary, and when the said sum was expended it was considered as so much work done, and they were at liberty to make an additional charge of fifteen per cent thereon as profit.
“The famous Bureau System is what has obtained on the Isthmus up to the present time, with changes and amplifications without number. There is enough bureaucratic work, and there are enough officers on the Isthmus to furnish at least half a dozen first-class republics with officials for all their departments. The expenditure has been simply colossal. One Director General lived in a mansion that cost over $100,000; his pay was $50,000 a year, and every time he went out on the line he had his deplacement which gave him the liberal sum of fifty dollars a day additional. He travelled in a handsome Pullman car, specially constructed, which was reported to have cost $42,000. Later, wishing a summer residence, a most ex