National Geographic : 1899 Aug
310 THE PROPOSED AMERICAN INTEROCEANIC CANAL even thousands of millions of dollars are continually being secured for commercial and industrial enterprises of merit. When M. de Lesseps visited this country in the year 1880 I was invited by the American Society of Civil Engineers in my then official capacity as Chief of the Bureau of Statistics in the Treasury Department to compute the amount of tonnage which would probably pass through an American interoceanic canal. This I did, under an order of the Secretary of the Treasury, in vestigating the available sources of geographic, economic, and commercial information. The work was one of considerable magnitude. It was begun in the month of February and com pleted in the month of August, 1880. I reported a possible ton nage of 1,625,000 tons per annum for any one of the proposed canals. Since the year 1880 seven transcontinental lines and parts of lines have been completed, the facilities for transporta tion by rail have been greatly increased, there has been an enor mous development of transcontinental traffic, and, as already shown, rates have greatly fallen. In a word, the general trend of the evolution of transportation facilities during the last twenty years has been in the direction of reducing the possible tonnage of any American interoceanic canal. From a computation based upon all the controlling conditions of the present day, I con clude that not more than 400,000 tons of shipping annually can be confidently expected to pass through any such canal. The receipts of any American interoceanic canal from tolls would therefore be insufficient to meet the expenses of its maintenance and administration, with nothing for interest on cost of construc tion, amounting probably to eight million dollars a year. During the last ten years I have from time to time plead for a thorough and impartial investigation of the economic and com mercial aspects of the proposed American interoceanic canal project by a commission upon which there should be placed no advocate or opponent of any one of the proposed schemes, and now through THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE I submit to the criticism and impartial judgment of geographers, econ omists, and students of commercial problems throughout the world my conception of the nature and scope of a proper gov ernmental inquiry, and the main facts and conditions upon which such inquiry should be based.