Skip to main content
Please contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections for assistance with accessing these materials.

Lester Bernstein papers

Identifier: GTM-860501

Scope and Contents note

The Lester Bernstein Papers consist of a diary written by Bernstein from July 21 to December 31 1899, part of the period in which he worked for the Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC). The remaining materials are lists pertaining to the hiring and placement of local men to work for the ICC.

Lester Bernstein was one of the men sent to Nicaragua to survey for canals. From his diary it can be discerned that he hired, supervised, and distributed the native workmen, helped build and/or restore camps, bought supplies, cleared paths through the jungle, and assisted with the surveying. Bernstein often wrote that he was out cutting "caminos" (paths), putting in boring and camino signals for geographic studies, or keeping receipts and accounting records. The camps seemed to have had frequent communication between them to pass down orders and to visit each other. Bernstein mentioned having had contact with two key figures in the ICC, Arthur P. Davis (Chief Hydrographer) and Mr. J. Miller ("Chief Engineers Surveys Nicaragua Routes").

Bernstein began the diary with his departure from Philadelphia for New York to begin work and ended it on the last day of 1899 in Nicaragua. He described the trip to Nicaragua, highlighting the more interesting stops along the way, such as Kingston, Jamaica and Cartagena, Colombia. As a travel log, Bernstein's descriptions of the people, customs, scenery, and governments of the various places he saw during his journey and while he was working in Nicaragua are detailed and intelligent. He included some hand drawn maps of Kingston, Cartagena, and the camps in which he stayed. Bernstein's interest in nature can be seen in the time he spent observing and writing about the army and leaf-eating ants he encountered, as well as brief descriptions of several local tree varieties. He also wrote some brief descriptions of local holiday celebrations.

The diary ends on December 31, 1899 and, although Bernstein occasionally made reference to a supplementary diary and despite the fact that the Commission did not complete the investigation until 1901, there is no further information from him.


  • 1899 July-December

Conditions Governing Access

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of the materials being used, establishing who the copyright owner is, locating the copyright owner, and obtaining permission for intended use.

Historical note

The Isthmian Canal Commission was formed by the United States government in 1899 to investigate possible routs for a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the areas of Nicaragua and Panama. At the time there was a strong sentiment in Congress to build the canal in Nicaragua, however the supporters of a Panama canal managed to persuade President McKinley that more investigation was necessary before a decision could be made. Thus the ICC was created with retired Navy Rear-Admiral John G. Walker at its head. The ICC sent men to Panama and Nicaragua to survey potential canal routes.


0.20 Linear Feet (1 Hollinger Slim Document Case)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, May 1986.

Lester Bernstein papers
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C.
Description rules
Local Practice
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057