Biographical and Historical note
Edward Alson Drake was born in Boston, September 15, 1845. His father was American and his mother, English. During his childhood, the Drakes moved to New York where he was educated in the city's public schools. Drake was awarded a scholarship to New York University, but was too young to accept. After a brief stint as a school teacher he entered the banking and brokerage business with his brother in 1859, under the firm name 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 in 1888. Hitherto he had served as governor of the New New York Stock Exchange, from 1880 to 1887. Drake continued his membership on the Stock Exchange until 1893 when he retired to devote his time to the Railroad Company which he served in the following successive capacities until his death: assistant secretary and treasurer, 1892; secretary, 1893; assistant general manager and secretary, 1898; second vice-president, 1899; secretary and treasurer, 1906; and vice-president, 1907. On January 9, 1873, Drake married Jeanette Louise Bell, the daughter of a fellow banker, William J. Bell. They had two sons, the youngest of whom died from illness in childhood. The elder, Alfred E. Drake eventually participated in his father's business, and was appointed acting secretary of 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.
A railroad across the Isthmus of Panama was born out of the necessity for improved transportation of the multitudes heading west to California at the onset of the Gold Rush in 1848. The narrow Isthmus had previously inspired Spanish conquistadors in 1501 to construct a road linking settlements on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in order to facilitate transportation of treasures from the west coast of South America to Spanish galleons off the Atlantic cost. The road, known as the Camino Real or royal road, proved too slow and hazardous, and as early as 1520, the Spanish investigated the possibility of a canal. It was not until 1848, however, that steps toward an alternative to the road crossing developed. A group of enterprising New York businessmen, perceiving the potential of an Isthmian rapid transit system, founded the Panama Railroad Company and petitioned the government of Colombia, then New Granada, for a concession under which they could open a railway (that it was eventually decided would breach the distance between Panama and the town 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 secretary of state for New Granada, Don Victoriano de Diego Paredes, on April 15, 1850. The first through train from coast to coast ran on the completed track on January 28, 1855. From the start, the Panama Railroad Company prospered, boosted as it was by traffic during the Gold Rush years. Interest in a canal continued throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. 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 canal across Panama. Rights were obtained from Colombia, then a colonist of Panama, and in 1879 a French company was formed led by Ferdinand de Lesseps (builder of the Suez Canal) to construct the canal. The company purchased most 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 of well-known treaties beginning with the Hay-Herran Treaty in 1903 signed between US secretary of state John Hay and Colombian president Pedro Herran and providing the US with a 100-year lease of the Canal Zone. US interest in Panama was to encourage that country's eventual secession from Colombia later that year. With financial assistance arranged by Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a Frenchman representing the interests of the defunct de Lesseps company, a group of prominent Panamanian nationals led by Jose Augustin Arango, an attorney for the Panama Railroad Company, organized a revolutionary junta. The other junta members included Manuel Amador Guerrero (who was to be the first constitutional president of Panama) and Carlos C. Arosemena. In October and November 1903, with the aid of US naval forces, the junta led a successful uprising against the Colombian government. The outcome of this US-Panamanian collaboration was the signing and ratification of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, approved by the US Senate on February 23, 1904, which rendered Panama a de facto protectorate of the US and granted the latter use, occupation, and control of the Canal Zone 'in perpetuity.' Construction of the Panama canal began in 1904, conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers under the guidance of Col. George Goethals. The project was further strengthened by the US government purchase of capital stock of the Panama Railroad Company which eventually benefited from the development of a shipping line, known as the Panama Railroad and Steamship Line. On August 15, 1905, the first ship crossed the completed canal. The Panama Canal follows the basic line of the original Panama railroad.