INAUGURATION OF THE BRIDGE OF THE AMERICAS
From the beginning of the works in the canal by the
French, it was noted that there would be a break in the link between the cities
of Panama and Colon with the rest of the republic, once the country was split
in two parts.
With the arrival of the Americans in 1904, as the new
leaders in the struggle to carry forth this monumental task, the transportation
problem became increasingly greater. This situation was solved in part by
transit on the barges that crossed the Gatun locks area.
As the population increased, on the works of the
canal as well as in the Republic itself, the difficulty of traveling to the
interior became even more acute.
The Panama Canal logo bears the phrase, "the land
divided, the world united", meaning clearly that Panama had been dismembered
for the benefit of the world.
In response to the large number of automobiles and a
central highwaysoon to be inaugurated--that led all the way to
Chiriquí, the Panama Canal Mechanical Division built two ferries
(Presidente Amador and Presidente Washington) in August 1931, to ferry back and
forth from both shores of the Canal.
In August 1940, another similar service was begun
with barges powered by gasoline engines, mainly to serve military operations
and meet the needs of new townsites and installations of the US Army and Navy,
as a result of World War II.
On June 3, 1942, the Miraflores swing bridge was
concluded, which would somewhat alleviate this problem.
By November 1942 another ferry was added, Presidente
Porras, in response to the marked increase in vehicular traffic.
The idea of a bridge spanning the Canal to allow
continual and unimpeded flow of vehicles and individuals had been held for many
years. In 1923 it was proposed by the Panamanian government as an
The canal treaty that was negotiated by President
Rodolfo Chiari in 1926 had, among its issues, the building of a bridge over the
canal, but was conditioned to the establishment of a network of roads
The subsequent administrations of Presidents Harmodio
Arias (1934), Arnulfo Arias Madrid (1941), and Ricardo Adolfo de la Guardia
(1943), gradually moved toward the objective of the bridge over the canal, each
one achieving something toward this aspiration.
With the signing of the
Remón-Eisenhower treaty in 1955, the northern nation finally made a
commitment to build the bridge.
The $20,000,000 contract was awarded to John F.
Beasly & Company, who worked very efficiently to meet the inaugural date of
October 12, 1962.
The Americans always called it the Thatcher Ferry
Bridge, while Panama used the name Bridge of the Americas, which was made
official in a National Assembly Resolution of October 2, 1962. The resolution
read as follows:
"The bridge over the Panama Canal shall bear the name
Bridge of the Americas.
"Said name will be used exclusively to identify said
Panamanian government officials shall reject any
document in which reference is made to the bridge by any name other than
"Bridge of the Americas."
A copy of this resolution, with the appropriate note
on style, shall be forwarded to all legislative bodies of the world, so that
all may give the bridge the name chosen by this honorable assembly, complying
with the express will of the Panamanian people.
Given in the city of Panama on the second day of the
month of October of nineteen hundred and sixty-two.
Jorge Rubén Rosas
Alberto Arango N."
The bridge is 5,425 feet long with a span of 348 feet
above sea level and 201 above the highest possible tide.
The bridge has an arched steel structure and on both
ends there are wide access ramps in both directions and a pedestrian walkway on
On inaugural day, the U.S. Army and Air Force bands
as well as the Panama National Guard Band gave a concert at 9 a.m.
The program began at 9:30 a.m. and consisted of the
- Invocation by Reverend
Mainert J. Petersen
- Speech by Max
DelValle, Minister of Panama Public Works
- Prayer by Rabbi Nathan
Witkins, Director of the Board of Jewish Affairs
- Musical Presentation:
Hymn of the Americas by the choir of the Army and Air Force School for Latin
- Introductory remarks
by Governor Fleming
- Speech by the
Honorable Under Secretary of State, George W. Bell
- Presentation of the
Bridge by John F. Beasly to Colonel Matthew C. Harrison and Governor Fleming
- Words by the Honorable
Maurice F. Thatcher
- National Anthem of the
United States of America
- National Anthem of the
Republic of Panama
- Benediction by
Monsignor José María Carrizo, Prelate of Panama
- Cutting of the Ribbon
by Maurice F. Thatcher
- The Thatcher Ferry
Bridge March, a joint presentation by the bands of the United States Air Force
This ceremony had full nationwide coverage on radio
and television. The Canal Zone station was the anchor for the networking
channels (2, 4, 8, & 10).
Many precautions were taken to avoid crowding and to
preserve the order during the entire ceremony.
After the ceremonial protocols, those in attendance
were allowed to walk across this modern structure.
The Canal Zone Postal Administration issued a postal
seal with a picture of the bridge and the caption:
THE THATCHER BRIDGE UNITING THE CONTINENT
THE PANAMA CANAL UNITING THE OCEANS
It is worth noting that the undersecretary of the
northern nation in his speech said, "we can look today to this bridge as a new
and bright step toward the realization of that dream of a Pan-American Highway,
which is now almost a reality. The grand bridge we inaugurate todaytruly
a bridge of the Americascompletes the last stage of the highway from the
United States to Panama". He referred to the new structure as "truly a bridge
of the Americas", either inadvertently or in a very political fashion,
supporting the name chosen by the Panamanians.
A special guest also was the 99-year-old episcopal
clergyman, Edward J. Cooper, who worked for the canal agency for 35 years.
The great curiosity over the new bridge and the
desire of everyone to cross it, created initially great traffic jams, which
brought about the opening of the Miraflores bridge to ease the flow of
After the first few days, the situation was
normalized and the majestic Bridge of the Americas has proudly continued her
symbolic and practical task of uniting the Republic of Panama.
This inauguration was the crowning moment in an
enormous, collective triumph of efforts and wills throughout the years.
Truly a watershed moment for the people of