Jun 21, 2016 - Sale 2420

Sale 2420 - Lot 389

Price Realized: $ 8,750
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 6,000 - $ 9,000
(PANAMA.) Papers of Hartley Rowe, an electrical engineer on the Panama Canal project. 262 items (1 linear foot), including: 205 letters from Rowe to his future wife Inez Oswald, 1904-08 * 2 letters to Rowe * 18 technical documents on the canal construction, mostly typescripts and carbons dated 1910-19 * 20 photographs * and 17 pieces of printed ephemera; condition generally strong. Vp, 1904-19

Additional Details

Hartley Rowe (1882-1966) was an Indiana-born electrical engineer. Shortly after graduating from Purdue, he began work on the Panama Canal project. The heart of this collection is an extensive run of 205 letters from Rowe to his hometown sweetheart Inez Oswald; they were married in June 1908. The first 38 letters were written during his senior year at Purdue, and then resume with his arrival in Panama in November 1904, just a few months after the United States took control of the Canal Zone. Rowe did not immediately embrace the Panamanian people, complaining that "an American can't stand the climate here and do hard manual labor . . . so the commission is compelled to use this labor" (27 November 1904). He was initially hired as a general engineer, and reported his first project with pride: "I am to be placed in charge of some concrete work on the pipe line that runs to Panama from [Rio Grande]" (4 December 1904).
The following month, Rowe resigned his post with the Canal Commission and signed on as an electrical engineer with the Panama Rail Road (8 January 1905). He became superintendent of a power plant in the La Boca neighborhood of Panama City (22 January 1905), moving to Colon on 26 August 1905, and back to La Boca on 12 December 1906. Disease was a constant threat. During a yellow fever outbreak, Rowe reports, "one fellow who died had just been on the isthmus three or four days. I talked with him the day he landed here and he had great hopes of making a pile of money working at his trade and never got to do a day's work before he was taken sick. . . . If the patient dies it is pronounced yellow fever, and if he lives it is only another case of malaria" (19 March 1905). Shortly after a visit home, he wrote "my old friend malaria is visiting me again. Just think, only back three weeks and then have the fever already" (8 August 1907).
In addition to the letters, the collection includes 20 professional mounted photographs of the Canal Zone, and 18 reports and memoranda, most of them dating from the 1910s. One highlight is a typescript by Richard H. Whitehead titled "Hydraulics of the Locks of the Panama Canal" dated 1914, and inscribed to Rowe by the author. Another report from 1918 is titled "Power Supply for Cities of Colon and Panama."
Rowe was appointed resident engineer of the Canal Commission's Building Division before his return to the United States in 1919. He later became a vice president of the United Fruit Company and then served on the Atomic Energy Commission in 1946 when it deliberated on the hydrogen bomb. This archive doesn't delve into nuclear physics, but it offers a close and personal view of perhaps the greatest engineering feat of the early twentieth century.