When the First Ship Sails through the Panama Canal


The construction of the Panama Canal, its opening to traffic in early 1914, and the Panama Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco in 1915 to celebrate the completion of the canal, all inspired a wave of songwriting in the United States. The most notable of the compositions honoring the canal was “The Pathfinder of Panama,” written by the military march composer John Philip Sousa in 1915. This was also a time in which American popular sheet music publication was enjoying a golden age of sorts. Songs were published with cover art and accompanying illustrations that often overshadowed the quality of the compositions themselves, most of which are long forgotten. Shown here is the sheet music for “When the First Ship Sails through the Panama Canal,” a song for voice and piano published in Washington D.C. in 1914, with words and music by J.W. Grinstead, arranged by Margaret D. Walker. The song has two verses, the first of which reads: You’ve all heard the song, “I’m a Yankee Doodle boy.” / And I am glad I am. The song of the grand old U.S.A. / You know Uncle Sam. / But there is a song that is dear in ev’ry heart, / Or it is to me the song it is something like this, / “Oh say can you see.” If old Mex wants any fun; / They find us there some with the gun, / Ev’ry body’s doing it now.

Last updated: January 8, 2018