The Panama Canal by Frederic J. Haskin, 1913
idea of speaking of "silver and gold employees," rather than
black and white employ was originated by E. J. Williams, Jr., the
disbursing officer of the Canal Commission. He first put this
designation on the entrances to pay car and it was immediately adopted
as solution of the troubles growing out of the mingling of the races.
of the most interesting experiences could come to any visitor to the
Isthmus was a trip across the Zone on the pay car; to see 24 tons of
silver and 1,600 pounds of gold paid out for a single month's work; and
to watch the 30,000 negroes, the 5,000 Americans, and the 3,000 -4,000
Europeans on the job file through car and get their money. The negroes
usually a good-natured, grinning lot of men and boys, but they were wont
to get impatient, not with the amount of money they drew but its weight.
Under an agreement with the Panama Government the Canal Commission
endeavored to keep the Panama silver money at par. Two dollars
Panamanian money was worth one-dollar American, and the employees were
paid Panamanian coin. Thus a negro who earned $22.00 during the month
would get $44 of the "spiggoty” dollars. These "spiggoty"
dollars are the same size as our own silver dollars and to carry them around
was something of a task.
money was not used on the pay car at all. In the first place, there was
always a danger of its blowing away, and in the second place paper money
in the hands of negro workmen soon assumed a most unsanitary
condition. The negroes were always desirous of getting American paper
money because they could send it home more cheaply than gold.