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3-cent 75th Anniversary of Gorgas Hospital

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3-cent Gorgas Hospital and Ancon Hill plate proof

The 3-cent 75th Anniversary of Gorgas Hospital commemorative (Scott 148) was issued on November 17, 1957. The original hospital on that site was constructed by the French during their unsuccessful attempt to build a canal at Panama. That hospital was dedicated September 17, 1882, as “L’Hopital Central de Panama.” When the Americans purchased and assumed control of the French assets on May 4, 1904, one of the first things they did was to rename it 'Ancon Hospital' to mark its location on the hill of the same name overlooking the City of Panama.

In June 1904 the first group of American medical personnel arrived in Panama, led by U.S. Army Colonel William C. Gorgas. Gorgas was an officer who had been deeply involved in the successful eradication of yellow fever from Havana, Cuba. He was immune to 'yellow jack', as it was often called, because he had recovered from a milder case while serving with the army. His immunity made him well-suited to his new position as Chief Sanitary Officer of the Isthmian Canal Commission. As Chief Sanitary Officer, Gorgas was ultimately responsible for cleaning-up the Isthmus so that the thousands of workers soon to arrive could function in the tropical climate. His measures were so successful that Panama recorded its last case of yellow jack in 1905. This success imparted on Gorgas an almost God-like respect, and he is today recognized as one of the brightest stars in the pantheon of heroes who dug the 'Big Ditch', as President Theodore Roosevelt described the Panama Canal. Dr. Gorgas, who became a major general and Surgeon General of the Army, died in 1920 at age 66.

By 1915 Canal Zone authorities recognized that the old French wooden buildings at Ancon Hospital needed modernization. On March 24, 1928, by Public Resolution of the U.S. Congress, the hospital was renamed for Gorgas “in recognition of his distinguished services to humanity.” One of the buildings erected by the Americans—the Administration Building—is depicted on the Gorgas Hospital stamp.

The first day ceremonies were rather extensive for this stamp, and, even more interesting, it was issued on a Sunday. The 200,000 stamps were placed for sale at the ceremonies in the lobby of Gorgas Hospital and also at the Balboa post office. On the first sale of sale just under 113,000 of the stamps were sold and about 26,700 first day covers serviced. The most common first day cover by far is found on a cachet by isthmian designer/producer Elmer Smith. The rest of the stamps were sold over the next months, and none had to be destroyed.

The 3-cent value covered seamail to the United States and was used primarily in that capacity, although some were used on local letters too. In combination with other stamps for any number of usages, it is much less common. As a 'medical topical' the stamp and its usages find a world-wide attraction, which may account for its being uncommonly seen on other than first day covers.

Robert J. Karrer