Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/173

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dynamite, we might query whether, if a still stronger explosive were employed, the rock might not be reduced to pebbles or sand. In this state it might be handled by the buckets of excavators, and the slower operation of cranes be avoided. We might speculate further, whether the explosives said to have been recently invented in France and Germany, or like substances, might not be of service. If, as is understood, the governments which possess them desire to keep the process of manufacture secret, some difficulty might be experienced in procuring them. But civilization might be the gainer if such inventions were used to blast a thoroughfare at Panama instead of to enhance the rapidity with which human slaughter is carried on.[1]

Of all writers who have interested themselves in the Panama Canal no one has given the amount of attention to inventions bestowed by Mr. Bigelow in his report to the New York Chamber of Commerce. We can not do better than give his views upon this topic. These, again, may serve to introduce further particulars as to the machinery employed. After observing that the wages of unskilled labor when work was begun were ninety cents a day, and have since advanced to a minimum of $1.75, and that even at this price the company does not readily get the labor needed, [2] he says:

The question then arises, Must the work be prosecuted under the present conditions?

"When the Jews were required to make brick without straw, Moses came. May not the exigency, like child-bearing, work its own cure?

In all ages and nations, when manual labor has become too costly to do the work for which there was a universal or even a general need, a substitute for it has been promptly devised. It was to the need of economizing muscular labor that we owe the hoe, the wheelbarrow, and the plow. Had laborers' wages never risen above a shilling a day, we should never have heard of McCormick's reaper, or of Howe's and Singer's sewing-machines. It is equally certain that the portion of our planet which lies under the tropics will never play the part in human history to which its territorial extent and productive power entitle it, until our present assortment of mechanical substitutes for muscular power has been very largely increased. Machines do not mind malaria; they are not poisoned by marshy water; they thrive on the black-vomit; they have no fear of chills or sunstrokes; and, what is more, they are never tired, and will work all the days and nights of their natural lives without interruption, if properly fed and cared for.

That is the class of operatives for out of-door work in the tropics, and it is to them that M. de Lesseps must, and I presume does, look for an early completion of his canal; for it is in that direction his own remarkable experience
  1. No secret seems to attach to the composition of a new explosive, bellite, to which an article is devoted in the "Scientific American," May 14, 1887. This explosive, it is stated, has been found more effective in quarries than any nitro-glycerine compound.
  2. One of the chief difficulties of the company at present is getting an adequate laborsupply. In the "Canal Bulletin," June 16, 1887, the fact is noticed that at several points part of the machinery provided was lying idle, owing to this lack. Several hundred Chinese had arrived but recently, and it was hoped that their labor would prove as effective as that of the Chinese employed upon the Panama Railroad forty years since.