William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
Finding aid created by
Moriz and Lester Bernstein Correspondence, 1897-1900
Meg Hixon, August 2011
Moriz and Lester Bernstein correspondence
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. They described their daily lives and work, their environment, and political and military developments in Central America.
The material is in English
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown
Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.
Moriz and Lester Bernstein Correspondence, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
- Series I: Moriz Bernstein letters
- Series II: Lester Bernstein letters
Each series is arranged chronologically.
S. J. Bernstein was born c. 1854 in Germany, and moved to the United States with his wife, Marie, sometime before 1876. The couple had several children: Moriz (b. ca. 1876), Ralph (b. ca. 1877), Julius (b. 1880), Lester, and Walter. In December 1897, Moriz and Lester left their family in Philadelphia and embarked for Central America to do construction and surveying work for the Nicaragua Canal Commission. While in Central America, Moriz took charge of a small work crew under Dr. C. W. Hayes, and operated a drill to take geological borings of the terrain. Lester became a member of a small group charged with surveying the San Juan River around Lake Nicaragua. Lester returned to the United States in December 1898, while Moriz remained in Central America until at least August 1900.
Collection Scope and Content Note
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 .
- Costa Rica--Description and travel.
- Costa Rica--History--1821-1948.
- Nicaragua Canal (Nicaragua)
- Nicaragua Canal Survey (U.S.)
- San Juan River (Nicaragua and Costa Rica)
- United States. Nicaragua Canal Commission (1897-1899)
- Bernstein, Lester.
- Bernstein, Moriz, b. ca. 1876.
Additional Descriptive Data
DuVal, Miles P. Cadiz to Cathay: the Story of the Long Struggle for a Waterway Across the American Isthmus. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1940.
Hunter, W. Henry. The American Isthmus And the Interoceanic Canal. [New York: Engineering Magazine Co., 1899.]
Walker, John Grimes. Report of the Isthmian Canal Commission, 1899-1901. Washington: G.P.O., 1904.
United States. Nicaragua Canal Commission (1897-1899). Report of the Nicaragua Canal Commission, 1897-1899. Baltimore: Lord Baltimore Press, 1899.