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Nicaragua Canal

The discovery of gold in California drew additional attention from American and European powers who wanted to establish and control routes across Panama and Nicaragua. Americans, French and British were among the contenders, and in a move to control a route from the sultry, swampy Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua, the British occupied the Eastern seaboard port of San Juan del Norte between 1848 and 1850, renaming it Greytown.

In 1846, at the beginning of the California Gold Rush, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt established a transit route to facilitate the trip between New York and California. Transferring from Vanderbilt’s Transit Company steamboats to smaller river- and lake-based steamboats, and covering part of the distance on foot, by mule, or by stagecoach, travelers crossed the isthmus between San Juan del Sur and San Juan del Norte in approximately twenty hours. This innovation cut travel time between East and West Coasts from six months to less than one.

In spite of an extraordinary rainfall (236 inches a year), Cornelius Vanderbilt established a highly profitable route across Nicaragua by waterway and carriage road. In 1851, he developed the route in competition with the Pacific Mail Line, which had joined the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via the overland Panama route. The Panama route was laborious until the railroad was completed across the Isthmus.

Daily Alta California, September 18, 1851, San Francisco

The Nicaragua Route--We find the following notice of the new Line among the remarks of the N.Y. Herald on the arrival of the Prometheus:

"The facts stated by our correspondents on the subject, whose letters we publish this morning, present a very clear and interesting statement of an actual experiment; from which we think it may be safely assumed that the trip between New York and San Francisco, by the Nicaragua route, will yet be accomplished in twenty-two or three days. The shortest trip, we believe, ever made by the Panama route, was thirty-one days. The trip by the Nicaragua has actually accomplished it in twenty-nine; and several days yet may be saved in perfecting the transit of the isthmus."

The Nicaragua Canal

Sacramento Daily Union, April 9, 1890, Sacramento, California


The First Contract is Secured by a Well Known California Firm.

The Nicaragua Canal.

San Francisco, April 8th. The first contract let by the Nicaragua Canal Company has been secured by C. P. Treat & Co , of this city. The contract calls for the building of ten miles of railroad, from the mouth of the San Juan to the canal locks of the Atlantic divide. The work will be completed in about four months, and will cost from $150,000 to $200,000.

As the greater portion of the route is over low and swampy ground, considerable piling and filling in with earth will be necessary. When the railroad is completed there will be transported over it the machinery to be used in excavating the great ship locks and in cutting through the Atlantic divide.

When this cut is completed there will be continuous slack water from the third Atlantic lock, thirty-three miles from the Caribbean Sea to the highest of the three locks on the Pacific side, a distance of 120 miles, the distance from ccean to ocean being 170 miles.

Mr. Harris, of the firm of C. P. Treat & Co., says that he and his partners are prepared to take any or all of the contracts for building the remainder of the canal, and that machinery would be used wherever practicable. In buying supplies and provisions San Francisco would be given tbe preference.

August 1, 1895, Foreign and Colonial Importer


The Nicaragua Canal.

A commission has been appointed by the President of the United States to look into the plans and estimates of the Nicaragua, Canal Company, and the Railroad Gazette thinks its members will do all that can. be clone with 4,000. " We can speak from considerable knowledge of one member of the commission. On the other hand, the appropriation is, doubtless, entirely inadequate for an examination of the canal route or routes.

The route adopted by the canal company can unquestionably be gone over by the commission, and the commission can judge whether or not enough data have been collected to make it possible to make a reasonably safe estimate of the cost of construction; but with the funds available they cannot collect much more data concerning this route alone. As to any other routes, it would be quite impossible for the commission to examine them; but that other routes should be examined before the route is decided upon cannot be doubted.

The route adopted by the company was not accepted, even by the company's engineers, without doubts and reservations in the minds of some of them at least. There was a pretty strong judgment in favour of the lower or Lull's route, which does away with the great dams, and the tremendous divide cut. So, while we are prepared to believe that the commission which will shortly sail will do the best that could be done with the funds at its disposal, and under its instructions, we fear that the report cannot be conclusive from an engineering point of view alone, much less as a study of the commercial results and possible returns."

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

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Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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