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Nicaragua Mount Momotombo 10 centavos postage stamp, ca. 1900

Philippe Bunau-Varilla, who lobbied for a Panamanian canal, sent every senator a Nicaraguan postage stamp depicting a volcano. It was an effective ploy: Panama had no volcanoes.

National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Nicaragua Mount Momotombo 10 centavos postage stamp, ca. 1900

The Panama Canal

By the 1880s Congress considered a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans essential for commerce and defense, but disagreements about its location became a “Battle of the Routes.” Senator John Tyler Morgan of Alabama, head of the Committee on Inter-Oceanic Canals, wanted it in Nicaragua, near southern U.S. ports. Senator Mark Hanna of Ohio wanted to complete a canal in Panama begun by a French company. In 1904, after the U.S. militarily supported Panama’s independence from Colombia, the Senate approved a canal treaty with Panama.