First Canal Zone Stamps Issued

U.S. #CZ2 – One of the first stamps issued for use in the Canal Zone.

On June 24, 1904, the U.S. issued its first stamps for use in the Canal Zone.

With military assistance from the United States, Panama declared its independence from Columbia on November 3, 1903. The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was negotiated, then ratified in Panama on December 2, 1903. The United States followed suit on February 23, 1904, clearing the way for a long-anticipated canal project across the Panama isthmus.

U.S. #CZ4 – A U.S. #300 overprinted for use in the Canal Zone.

Almost immediately, administrators began preparations for the tremendous influx of people who would eventually assemble to work on the project. Faced with the knowledge that most of the work force would be imported to the region from America and Caribbean countries, authorities quickly established a postal service to serve their needs as well as those of the Canal Commission.

On June 24, 1904, postal service was established as part of the U.S. Department of Revenue under the supervision of the treasurer of the Canal Zone, Paymaster E.C. Tobey. On this day, post offices were opened in Ancon, Cristóbal, Gatun, Culebra, and Balboa. Railroad station agents operated as postmasters.

U.S. #CZ106 – The first permanent issue Canal Zone stamp.

A small supply of 2¢, 5¢, and 10¢ Panama stamps were overprinted “Canal Zone.” Only ordinary mail was handled by the Canal Zone postal system. Mail destined for Central and South America and the West Indies was turned over to the Panama postal service to be forwarded, while mail sent to the United States and its territories and possessions were sent to the U.S. aboard vessels departing for New York.

Overprinted Panama stamps were in use for less than a month. On July 18, 1904, they were replaced by U.S. postage stamps overprinted “Canal Zone.”

In December of 1904, Secretary of War William Taft ordered the overprinted U.S. stamps to be withdrawn, and replaced them with overprinted Panama stamps. Taft’s executive order was reversed in 1924, when overprinted U.S. stamps were placed in use again.

On October 1, 1928, the first permanent-issue Canal Zone stamp was issued. The 2¢ stamp featured Lt. Col. George W. Goethal, the canal project’s chief engineer and first Canal Zone governor.

U.S. #CZC7 – One of the first Canal Zone Airmail stamps produced without an overprint.

The following year the Canal Zone issued its first Airmail stamps. These were Canal Zone stamps overprinted with “Airmail” and the denomination. The first airmail stamps produced specifically for the Canal Zone were issued in 1931. They also issued Postage Due, Airmail Official, and Official stamps. The last Canal Zone stamp was issued on October 25, 1978.

U.S. #CZ165 – The last regular issue Canal Zone stamp.

Click here for more Canal Zone stamps and here for a neat collection of 100 Canal Zone stamps.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. I served a tour in the Canal Zone in the late 70’s with the Army. Sometimes during the weekend, I would visit the many small shops in Panama City that dealt in Central and South America money exchange. These shops were a gold mine in obtaining Canal Zone stamps. I easily finished a complete set (yes, a complete set) of Canal Zone stamps (in unused condition) in the three years that I was there; which I still have (no, I never found the Canal Zone stamp CZ 157 with the bridge missing). The shop owners had little interest in these stamps and seemed glad to get rid of them. Most of the time I obtained these stamps for their face value, and never paid more than one or two dollars for each stamp. I wonder if this opportunity still exists in Panama? The Canal Zone is now gone, but the shops are still probably there. All this was before the Noriega incident, and life was very pleasant there. There was a lot of controversy in the Canal Zone when Jimmy Carter turned the Canal Zone over to Panama. I attended an event in the Canal Zone with Jimmy Carter and he was never given an opportunity to speak because he was constantly booed by the Americans who worked in the Canal Zone who disagreed with the United States turning over the Panama Canal over to the Panamanians. I was a soldier and left the event quickly for obvious reasons. Very interesting times.

  2. My cousin was stationed in the Canal Zone after graduating from West Point in 1928. His brother, a NY State police trooper, broke his leg in a motorcycle accident so he decided to spend the time recuperating with his brother in the Canal Zone. He was actually lowered over the side of the ship, cast and all. Sorry, I don’t have any stamps from those mail interactions.

  3. Curious as to why there was a back and forth of policy with regards to Taft’s decision to overprint Panama and US stamps for the Canal Zone?

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