The Panama Canal by Frederic J. Haskin, 1913

The 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.

One 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.

When the negroes were asked what they proposed to do with their money the almost invariable reply was: "Put it to a good use, sir." American money was always at a premium with them and the moneychangers in the various towns usually
did a land-office business on payday

Paper 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.