Panama Canal History - Work Force
WORK FORCE

The following chart shows the maximum force employed during each year of construction work

Date Work Force
May, 1904 1,000 (Approx.)
Nov., 1904 3,500
Nov., 1905 17,000
Dec., 1906 23,901
Oct., 1907 31,967
Apr., 1908 33,170
Oct., 1909 35,495
Mar., 1910 38,676
Dec., 1911 37,826
June, 1912 38,174
Aug., 1913 39,962
June, 1914 33,270

The following table shows the total number of contract laborers brought to the Isthmus throughout the work.  It does not include the number of workers recruited from the United States.

Country
1904
1905
1906
1907
1908
1909
1910
1911
1912
1913
Spain    
1,174
5,293
1,831
         
Cuba    
500
             
Italy    
909
1,032
           
Greece      
1,101
           
France    
19
             
Armenia    
14
             
Total Europeans    
2,616
7,426
1,831
         
Fortune Island     361              
Barbados 404 3,019 6,510 3,242 2,592 3,605        528
Guadeloupe       2,039         14  
Martinique   2,733 585 2,224            
Jamaica   47                 
Trinidad     1,079        205    143   
Curacao     23               
St. Kitts     933           9  
St. Lucia                 55  
St. Vincent                 296  
Grenada                     93  
British Guiana                 332  
Total West Indies 404 5,799 9,491 7,505 2,592 3,605 205   942 528
Costa Rica   244                 
Colombia   1,077 416              
Panama   334 10 13            
Not classified     69              
Grand Total 404 7,454 12,602 14,944 4,423 3,605 205   942 528

Providing food for more than 40,000 employees and their families in a country with little food production capability and few stores was a tremendous task at the beginning.  With the goal in mind of maintaining a healthy and contented work force, the Isthmian Canal Commission imported food on the Panama Railroad steamers.  They also started farms to grow fruits and vegetables, even plants and flowers, as well as farms to produce milk and eggs.

It was a difficult task in the beginning, but every effort was made to ensure adequate living standards, in accordance with standards of the time, for canal workers. Ice and cold storage warehouses were constructed, and a bakery and ice cream plant were set up.  The Panama Railroad had refrigerated cars to provide distribution to settlements along the line of the canal.

Hotels or restaurants were established for the American bachelors.  A number of mess halls were built for the European laborers where meals were furnished at 40 cents per day.  Kitchens were built for the West Indian laborers.  Rations were furnished and cooked in these kitchens for 30 cents per day.