The Panama Canal Library, Panama Canal Zone

The Panama Canal Library, Panama Canal Zone, 1941 Library Card No. 06953 issued to Mrs. M. E. Nantz

The Panama Canal Library, Panama Canal Zone, 1941 Library Card No. 06953 issued to Mrs. M. E. Nantz (front)

The Panama Canal and The Panama Canal Zone

In 1903, the Republic of Panama, having just gained independence from Columbia, granted the United States full control of a 20 mile wide stretch of territory in the Isthmus of Panama to build a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to create shipping routes.  In addition to the construction of the canal, homes, schools, hospitals, offices and recreational areas were built for the thousands of Americans that would protect and oversee operations of the canal.   

The Panama Canal Zone was built to resemble an American suburb, complete with cream and gray stucco houses and manicured lawns.  American automobiles were imported and movie theaters showed the latest movies being shown in the States. Peak population was around 100,000 during 1950-1953.  Although “the Zone” was described by some as “a kind of paradise,” it was anything but for many residents.  A “rigid social hierarchy”  and Jim Crow by-laws enforced social and racial inequities.

In 1999, the Panama Canal Zone was transferred back to the Panamanian government, thus ending U. S. involvement in the maintenance and protection of the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal Library

In 1914, The Panama Canal Library was established providing an official reference service for the Panama Canal Zone.  The library system consisted of nine stations — a Main Library, three branches and five circulating libraries.  Anyone that lived in or worked in the Canal Zone was eligible for library privileges. However, non-U.S. Citizens or anyone not working for or living in the Canal Zone was required to make a refundable deposit when borrowing materials.  In 1951, the Panama Canal Library became the Canal Zone Library-Museum.  

Mrs. M. E. Nantz

Maria Nantz (1898-1990) was born in Puerto Rico.  Her husband, Merle Edward Nantz (1902-1989) was a Civil Engineer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Corp of Engineers, working in Wyoming, the Panama Canal Zone, and Nebraska. They retired to Sarasota, Florida. 

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