The exterior of an old, disused cinema in Gamboa, a town built in 1911, during the Panama Canal's construction, to house 'silver roll' (Afro-Antillean, non-US, non-white) workers and their dependents. No Americans were counted amongst the town's first inhabitants. By 1914, at the conclusion of Canal construction activities, Gamboa's population decreased from 700 to 173. However, when the Canal's Dredging Division was moved to the town its population revived until, in 1942, the population stood at 13,853.
The Panama Canal Zone is an area extending 8kms out, in each direction, from the waterway's central line, was a territory controlled by the United States between 1903 and 1979. After a 20 year period of joint administration, the Canal came under the full control of Panama in 1999. The Canal opened to shipping in 1914 and during its tenure was of great strategic importance to the US, enabling it to rapidly move its naval fleet between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. However, its economic value came not directly from shipping fees but from the stimulus to trade that the waterway created. One hundred years after it opened in 2014 it is due to have its locks upgraded to cater for the super sized container ships of the 21st Century.
During the era of American administration thousands of US citizens populated the Canal Zone, living and working under US law in towns built to American standards. Not all of these people returned north after the canal came under full Panamanian control many stayed on, their identities tied to the region.