This collection contains correspondence written by brothers Moriz and Lester Bernstein to their family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while the pair worked surveying land for the Nicaragua Canal Commission between 1897 and 1900. The brothers described their daily lives and work, their natural surroundings, and political and military developments in Central America. In his letter of January 14, 1898, Moriz described Costa Rica at length, including its native plants and animals, and also referred directly to his labor: "I have four negroes and are good workers. I treat them pretty good and get more work out of them." He travelled in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and often discussed his work extracting geological samples from different areas and working on several dams.
Lester revealed that his labor tended to be more physically taxing than his brother's, and reported long days and frequent exhaustion. He also focused more on contemporary political affairs in Central America, including the beginning of armed conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 1898. Lester reported, "Every man or boy capable of bearing arms in the country has been forced in the army. On Sunday evening the rebels took the town of Rivas, just on the other side of the lake. On Monday morning Nicaragua declared war against Costa Rica on account of the letter [latter] giving the rebels aid[.] This brings the greater Republic of Central America into the strife" (February 13, 1898). Lester's correspondence also displayed a greater awareness of current events within the United States, and situated the Nicaraguan Canal effort in its contemporary historical context. On May 1, 1898, he said, "I was glad to hear that the papers have at last awakened to the value of this canal. The Chicago contractors said it would be just as cheap to put this canal through as to finish the Panama scheme. Now the U. S. should take hold of this at once and push it right through before it would be possible to finish the Panama route." Lester anticipated his return to
the United States in time for Christmas in 1898, and concluded with a note regarding his imminent departure on board the Finance .