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Panama Canal, poster, 1913

A Panama Canal poster of 1913 used colorful parrots to entice tourists with the exotic appeal of the tropics. Since the California gold rush in the mid-nineteenth century, many travelers had crossed Panama by rail, but the canal project kept Panama in the public eye and aroused interest in Central America as a tourist destination.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Panama Canal, poster, 1913

Exploring Panama

The Panama Canal awakened widespread interest in the region, but it was not only tourists who were curious. The United States had rights to control the Canal Zone in perpetuity under the 1904 treaty with Panama, and in 1923 scientists founded a biological laboratory there. Under a new treaty, ratified in 1978 with the consent of the U.S. Senate, the United States returned the zone to Panama in 1979. Yet the laboratory––now named the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute––continues its important work, expanding our understanding of biodiversity.