Today I came upon an interesting piece of information on one of the Yahoo bulletin boards. Credit goes to “Leo” for knowing about this and sharing the information.
I am sure that you know that Helen of Troy is recognized as a lady of such beauty, that her face launched a thousand ships and she is credited as being the reason for the Trojan Wars. But did you know that a Nicaraguan stamp, which depicted the smoking volcano Mount Momotomb, was used to convince the US congress to vote in favor of building the Panama Canal over a plan to build a canal through Nicaragua.
I have read a fair amount of history on the Canal, but this was new to me. The following snippet came from the Syracuse Stamp Club.
At the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, President William McKinley announced that America would build a canal joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The French firm de Lesseps had attempted such a canal across Panama twenty years earlier, but malaria and mudslides had forced them to abandon the project. McKinley and the Congress hoped to succeed where the French had failed by cutting their canal across Nicaragua instead.
Philippe Bunau-Varilla, formerly de Lesseps’ chief engineer, still hoped to convince the American government that the shorter Panama route was better. He personally lobbied the president and members of congress, but found them solidly behind the Nicaragua plan.
Remembering Napoleon’s dictum that “a small sketch is better than a large report,” Bunau-Varilla scoured stamp shops in Washington and New York for 100 copies of the then-current Nicaraguan definitive series, which depicted the volcano Mount Momotombo with an ash cloud issuing from the crater. He mounted the stamps on sheets of paper and circulated them among the senators as evidence that the volcano was a menace to the proposed Nicaraguan canal.
In his memoirs, Bunau-Varilla wrote “This was the last shot of the battle. It simply decided the fate of this long controversy. The day following, Senator [Jacob] Gallinger [of New Hampshire] asked the Senate if it was reasonable to undertake this colossal work in a country taking a smoking volcano as an emblem for its postage stamps.” The Senate decided the issue in favor of Panama.
Bunau-Varilla, Philippe. Panama: The Creation, Destruction, and Resurrection. (New York, 1914)
McCullough, David G. The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.)
Now I think that is really interesting. A Nicaraguan stamp licked the proponents of a Nicaraguan Canal and thereby enabled the Panama Canal to happen.