Teddy Roosevelt travels to Panama

Teddy Roosevelt travels to Panama

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On November 6, 1906, President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt embarks on a 17-day trip to Panama and Puerto Rico, becoming the first president to make an official diplomatic tour outside of the continental United States.

Roosevelt entered office in 1901 with the firm intention of asserting American influence over Central and South American politics, partly as a result of his own past experiences in the area. In 1897, he became secretary of the Navy under President William McKinley, whose administration worked to secure access to ports and industries in countries with close proximity to the U.S. At the time of Roosevelt’s appointment to the Navy’s highest civilian office, American sea power was on the rise, enabling the U.S. to become a greater influence in world affairs.

Five years later, now-President Roosevelt visited Panama to check on the progress of the Panama Canal, the construction of which had suffered many setbacks, including worker accidents and disease outbreaks. Roosevelt’s tenacious demands for improvements in health care and better working conditions pushed the canal project forward just when it appeared doomed to failure. His trip to the construction site in 1906 –which included the taking of a November 15 photo of the president himself working the controls of a large steam shovel—helped to boost flagging morale.

Roosevelt’s next stop was Puerto Rico, which had become a U.S. protectorate after the Spanish-American War of 1898. In 1900, President William McKinley promised to help establish a civilian government there without becoming an occupying power. McKinley was assassinated in 1901, and Roosevelt, who was then serving as McKinley’s vice president became president, inheriting the stewardship of Puerto Rico. In 1906, he traveled to the country to recommend that Puerto Ricans become U.S. citizens. He stopped short of suggesting Puerto Rico become another U.S. state, however, and vowed to allow the island a certain amount of autonomy. (It was not until 1916, under President Woodrow Wilson, that the Jones Act was passed, extending the option of U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans while preserving Puerto Rico’s autonomy.)

Although presidents before Roosevelt had traveled outside the U.S. in other diplomatic capacities prior to or after serving as president, Roosevelt was the first to make a “state” visit while in office. His trip to Panama and Puerto Rico signaled a new era in how presidents conducted diplomatic relations with other countries.

READ MORE: 7 Little-Known Legacies of Teddy Roosevelt

History of Panama

The history of Panama includes the long history of the Isthmus of Panama region prior to European colonization, from Pre-Columbian cultures, through the Spanish colonial era, and eventual independence as the modern country of Panama.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Panama was widely settled by Chibchan, Chocoan, and Cueva peoples, but there is no accurate knowledge of the size of the Pre-Columbian indigenous population. Estimates range as high as two million people. They lived mainly by hunting, gathering edible plants & fruits, growing corn, cacao, and root crops, in small huts made of palm leaves.

The first permanent European settlement, Santa María la Antigua del Darién on the Americas mainland was founded in 1510. Vasco Nuñez de Balboa and Martín Fernández de Enciso agreed on the site near the mouth of the Tarena River on the Atlantic. This was abandoned in 1519 and the settlement moved to Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Panamá (present day Panama City), the first European settlement on the shores of the Pacific.

Panama was part of the Spanish Empire for over 300 years (1513–1821) and its fate changed with its geopolitical importance to the Spanish crown. In the 16th and 17th centuries, at the height of the Empire, no other region would prove of more strategic and economic importance.

On November 10, 1821, in a special event called Grito de La Villa de Los Santos, the residents of the Azuero declared their separation from the Spanish Empire. As was often the case in the New World after independence, control remained with the remnants of colonial aristocracy. In Panama, this elite was a group of less than ten extended families. The derogatory term rabiblanco ("white tail") has been used for generations to refer to the usually Caucasian members of the elite families.

In 1852, the isthmus adopted trial by jury in criminal cases and—30 years after abolition—would finally declare and enforce an end to slavery.


The group was led by the legendary hunter-tracker R. J. Cunninghame. [3] [4] Participants on the Expedition included Australian sharpshooter Leslie Tarlton three American naturalists, Edgar Alexander Mearns, a retired U.S. Army surgeon Stanford University taxidermist Edmund Heller, and mammalologist John Alden Loring and Roosevelt's 19-year-old son Kermit, on a leave of absence from Harvard. [5] The expedition also included a large number of porters and "porters, gunbearers, horse boys, tent men, and askari guards." [6] Equipment includes material for preserving animal hides, including powdered borax, and cotton batting, and four tons of salt. [6] as well as a variety of tools, weapons, and other equipment ranging from lanterns to sewing needles. [7] Roosevelt brought a M1903 Springfield in .30-03 caliber and, for larger game, a Winchester 1895 rifle in .405 Winchester. [8] Roosevelt also brought his Pigskin Library, a collection of classics bound in pig leather and transported in a single reinforced trunk. [9]

The party set sail from New York City on the steamer Hamburg on March 23, 1909, shortly after the end of Roosevelt's presidency on March 4. [2] The Hamburg arrived at its destination at Naples, where the party boarded the Admiral, a German-flagged ship selected because it permitted the expedition to load large quantities of ammunition. [10] While on board the Hamburg, Roosevelt encountered Frederick Courteney Selous, a longtime friend who was traveling to his own African safari, traversing many of the same areas. [11]

The party landed in Mombasa, British East Africa (now Kenya), traveled to the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) before following the Nile to Khartoum in modern Sudan. Financed by Andrew Carnegie and by his own proposed writings, Roosevelt's party hunted for specimens for the Smithsonian Institution and for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. [12]

Roosevelt and his companions killed or trapped approximately 11,397 [12] animals. According to Theodore Roosevelt’s own tally, the figure included about four thousand birds, two thousand reptiles and amphibians, five hundred fish, and 4,897 mammals (other sources put this figure at 5,103). Add to this marine, land and freshwater shells, crabs, beetles and other invertebrates, not to mention several thousand plants, and the number of natural history specimens totals 23,151. [12] A separate collection was made of ethnographic objects. The material took eight years to catalogue. The larger animals shot by Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt are listed on pages 457 to 459 of his book African Game Trails. The total is 512, of which 43 are birds. The number of big game animals killed, was 17 lion, 3 leopard, 7 cheetah, 9 hyena, 11 elephant, 10 buffalo, 11 (now very rare) black rhino and 9 White rhino. Most of the 469 larger non big game mammals included 37 species and subspecies of antelopes. The expedition consumed 262 of the animals which were required to provide fresh meat for the large number of porters employed to service the expedition. Tons of salted animals and their skins were shipped to Washington, D.C. the quantity took years to mount, and the Smithsonian shared many duplicate animals with other museums. Regarding the large number of animals taken, Roosevelt said, "I can be condemned only if the existence of the National Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and all similar zoological institutions are to be condemned." [13] Some context when considering whether the quantity of animals taken was excessive is that the animals were gathered over a period of ten months and were procured over an area that ranged from Mombasa through Kenya, to Uganda and the Southern Sudan—a distance traveled, with side trips, of several thousand kilometers. The diversity of larger mammal species collected was such that few individuals of any species were shot in any given area, and the large mammals collected had a negligible impact on the great herds of game that roamed East Africa at that time. Apologists for the Roosevelts have pointed out that the number of each big game species shot was very modest by the standards of the time: many white hunters of that period, for example, such as Karamoja Bell, had killed over 1,000 elephants each, while the Roosevelts between them killed just eleven. In making this comparison it has to be remembered that the white hunters weren’t collecting specimens for museums, but were occasionally employed by landowners to clear animals from land they wanted to use for plantations, and frequently as ivory hunter with or without hunting permit or licenses.

Although the safari was conducted in the name of science, it was as much a political and social event as it was a hunting excursion Roosevelt interacted with renowned professional hunters and land-owning families, and met many native peoples and local leaders. Roosevelt became a Life Member of the National Rifle Association, while President, in 1907 after paying a $25 fee. [14] He later wrote a detailed account in the book African Game Trails, where he describes the excitement of the chase, the people he met, and the flora and fauna he collected in the name of science. [15]

While Theodore Roosevelt greatly enjoyed hunting, he was also an avid conservationist. In African Game Trails he condemns "game butchery as objectionable as any form of wanton cruelty and barbarity" (although he does note that "to protest against all hunting of game is a sign of softness of head, not of soundness of heart") and as a pioneer of wilderness conservation in the USA he fully supported the British Government's attempts at that time to set aside wilderness areas as game reserves, some of the first on the African continent. He notes (page 17) that "in the creation of the great game reserve through which the Uganda railway runs the British Government has conferred a boon upon mankind", a conservation attitude which Roosevelt helped sow that finally grew and blossomed in the form of the great game parks of East Africa today.


With the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, the American Panama Canal Zone became a major staging area for the U.S. military and the U.S. became the dominant military power in Central America. [3] When Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Panama in November 1906 to inspect progress on the canal, he became the first U.S. president to leave the country while in office. [4] Subsequently, both William Howard Taft (in 1909) [5] and Warren G. Harding (in 1920) [6] visited Panama while each was the president-elect.

Taft and Harding each made one international trip while president. Taft and Mexican president Porfirio Díaz exchanged visits across the Mexico–United States border, at El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, in October 1909. While filled with much symbolism, the meetings did pave the way for the start of construction on the Elephant Butte Dam project in 1911, even as Mexico fell into revolution. [7] Harding made an official visit to Vancouver, British Columbia on July 27, 1923 (six days prior to his death). Greeted dock-side by the premier of British Columbia and the mayor of Vancouver, he was given a parade through the city to Stanley Park, where he spoke to an audience estimated at over 40,000. [8]

Woodrow Wilson made two international trips while in office. When he sailed for France in December 1918 for the Paris Peace Conference, he became the first sitting president to travel to Europe. [9] He spent nearly seven months in Europe, interrupted by a brief 9-day return to the U.S. in late February 1919. [10] Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts. [11] While in Rome, he met with Pope Benedict XV this was the first meeting between an incumbent American president and a reigning pope. [12]

Calvin Coolidge traveled to Havana, Cuba in January 1928, where addressed the Sixth International Conference of American States. There, he extended an olive branch to Latin American leaders embittered over America's interventionist policies in Central America and the Caribbean. It was the only time in his life that he traveled outside the contiguous United States. [13] [14]

The most recent president not to make any international trips during his time in office was Herbert Hoover (1929–33). He did, however, undertake an extensive ten-week tour of Central and South America during the time he was president-elect. [15] He delivered 25 speeches in 10 countries, almost all of which stressed his plans to reduce American political and military interference in Latin American affairs. In sum, he pledged that the United States would act as a "good neighbor." [16] [17]

Franklin D. Roosevelt made 20 international trips during his presidency. [18] His early travels were by ship, frequently for fishing vacations to the Bahama Banks, Canadian Maritimes or Newfoundland Island. In 1943 he became the first incumbent president to fly by airplane across the Atlantic Ocean during his secret mission to Casablanca. As a result of this trip, he also became the first president to visit North Africa while in office.

Harry S. Truman made five international trips during his presidency. [19] Three months after ascending to the presidency, Truman made his only trans-Atlantic trip as president to participate in talks concerning how to administer the defeated Nazi Germany, which had agreed to unconditional surrender nine weeks earlier (V-E Day). He also visited neighboring Bermuda, Canada and Mexico, plus Brazil in South America. Truman only left the continental United States on two other occasions (to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, February 20-March 5, 1948 and to Wake Island, October 11–18, 1950) during his nearly eight years in office. [20]

Dwight D. Eisenhower made 16 international trips during his presidency. [21] He also traveled abroad once while president-elect, visiting South Korea in December 1952, fulfilling a campaign pledge to investigate what might get stalled Korean War peace talks moving forward. [22] By the time he left office in January 1961, Eisenhower had visited 26 countries.

Columbine II, one of four propeller-driven aircraft introduced to presidential service during Eisenhower's first term in office, was the first plane to bear the call sign Air Force One. This designation for the U.S. Air Force aircraft carrying the incumbent president was established after an incident in 1953, when Eastern Air Lines 8610, a commercial flight, crossed paths with Air Force 8610, which was carrying President Eisenhower. Initially used informally, the designation became official in 1962. [23] [24]

In 1959, the Air Force added the first of three specially built Boeing 707-120 jet aircraft—VC-137s, designated SAM (Special Air Missions) 970, 971 and 972—into the fleet. [25] The high-speed jet technology built into these aircraft enabled presidents from Eisenhower through Nixon to travel long distances more quickly for face-to-face meetings with world leaders. [26] That year he journeyed to Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, Middle East, and Southern Asia. On his "Flight to Peace" goodwill tour in December 1959, the president visited 11 nations, flying 22,000 miles (35,000 km) in 19 days aboard the VC-137 SAM970.

John F. Kennedy made eight international trips during his presidency. [27] Two of these were to Europe, and the other six were to various nations in the Western Hemisphere. His second trip to Europe included the famous speech Ich bin ein Berliner at the Berlin Wall, the visit of the first Catholic president to Vatican City, plus the visit to Kennedy's ancestral home in Ireland. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy traveled with him on his 1961 visit to France and received such a popular reaction there that the president quipped "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris – and I have enjoyed it!" [28] [29]

Lyndon B. Johnson made eleven international trips during his presidency. [30] He flew 523,000 miles aboard Air Force One while in office. Eschewing Europe in favor of Southeast Asia and Latin America. One of the most unusual international trips in presidential history occurred before Christmas in 1967. The president began the trip by going to the memorial service for Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, who had disappeared in a swimming accident and was presumed drowned. The White House did not reveal in advance to the press that the president would make the first round-the-world presidential trip. The exhausting trip was 26,959 miles completed in only 112.5 hours (4.7 days). The trip crossed the equator twice, stopped in Travis Air Force Base, Calif., then Honolulu, Pago Pago, Canberra, Melbourne, Vietnam, Karachi and Rome.

Richard M. Nixon made fifteen international trips during his presidency. [31] He made the unusual move of going on a week-long trip to Europe only five weeks after his inauguration. Nixon's 1972 visit to China was an important strategic and diplomatic overture that marked the culmination of the Nixon administration's resumption of harmonious relations between the U.S. and China. He also made groundbreaking trips to various Communist-ruled nations as well, including: Romania (1969), Yugoslavia (1970), Poland (1972), and the Soviet Union (1972 and 1974). In 1972 Nixon received delivery of the second custom outfitted jet to be used as Air Force One, VC-137C SAM 27000.

Gerald Ford made seven international trips during his presidency. [32] Ford made the first visit of a sitting president to Japan, and followed it with a trip to the Republic of Korea and the Soviet Union (to attend the Vladivostok Summit).

Jimmy Carter made twelve international trips to 25 countries during his presidency. [33] Carter was the first president to make a state visit to Sub-Saharan Africa when he went to Nigeria in 1978. His travel included five trips to Europe and one trip to Asia. He also made several trips to the Middle East to broker peace negotiations. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts. [34] In 1978 he travelled to Panama City to sign a protocol confirming exchange of documents ratifying the Panama Canal treaties.

Ronald Reagan made 25 international trips to 26 countries during his presidency. [35] He made seven trips to continental Europe, three to Asia and one to South America. He is perhaps best remembered for his speeches at the 40th anniversary of the Normandy landings, for his impassioned speech at the Berlin Wall, his summit meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev, and riding horses with the Queen at Windsor Park.

Reagan's presidency would be transitional in international travel. During his term in office, he ordered the two special mission Boeing VC-25 that would become the new presidential transport to replace the aging Boeing 707s. Heavy lift aircraft could bring security, limousines, and helicopters. After that time, the president had access to inflight bedrooms and showers, boardrooms, and communication equipment and with refueling virtually unlimited range. Summit meetings would proliferate, and international travel would become more of a constant expectation of the presidency.

George H. W. Bush made 26 international trips to 58 countries during his presidency. [36] He initiated the frequent international travel pace that is the hallmark of the post–Cold War presidency. He went to Europe 11 times, Asia twice, and South America once, along with a number of shorter trips during his four years in office.

Bill Clinton made 54 trips to 72 countries (in addition to visiting the West Bank and Gaza) during his presidency. [37] He made 24 trips to continental Europe, 17 to Asia, two to Africa and to Australia. His others were to nations in the Americas.

September 6, 1901

President McKinley was visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo during the height of an anarchist movement that emerged from resentment of the wealthy by the poor. McKinley was shaking hands at a meet-and-greet when he was shot twice by Leon Czolgosz, a member of the anarchist movement.

At the time of the shooting, Vice President Roosevelt was at Isle La Motte on Lake Champlain enjoying a luncheon with the Vermont Fish & Game League. He immediately left and traveled to Buffalo to be near McKinley.

United States presidential visits to Central America

Eleven United States presidents and three presidents-elect have made thirty-four presidential visits to Central America. The first visit by an incumbent president to a country in Central America was made in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt. The trip, to Panama, was the first international presidential trip in U.S. history, and signaled the start of a new era in how presidents conducted diplomatic relations with other countries. [1] In 1928, Herbert Hoover, during the time when he was president-elect, visited the region during his historic "good will" trip, to Central and South America. [2] [3]

The number of visits made to each country in the region are: 12 to Panama, seven to Costa Rica, five to El Salvador, four to Honduras, three to Guatemala, and three to Nicaragua. Only Belize has not been visited by an American president.

Theodore Roosevelt And The Panama Canal

Theodore Roosevelt and the Panama Canal will forever be linked together in history. When he first took office in 1901 (following the assassination of President William McKinley), the Panama Canal project was a recently-abandoned disaster. Started by the French Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique on February 1, 1881, the project had been funded by more than 100,000 investors who had contributed small amounts. Originally, plans by Ferdinand de Lesseps (who had previously built the Suez Canal) called for a 50-mile canal at sea level, running by the path of the Panama Railroad. His original estimates included a 12 year timeline at a price tag of $132 million. What no one could foresee would lead to misfortune, disgrace, and colossal financial loss.

After cutting a pathway through the jungle, digging began on January 20, 1882. With a crew comprised of primarily black and Indian laborers, along with a collection of modern, new equipment like tugboats and steam shovels. At first, there was steady progress, but when the rains started De Lesseps discovered what others had tried to warn him about: Panama’s unforgivable climate (heat and rain), wildlife (mosquitoes and snakes), and disease (malaria, smallpox, and yellow fever). In 1881, there were nearly 60 deaths from disease alone. By 1882, there were twice that many. When the French attempt finally ended in December 1888, more than $287 million of investors’ money was spent, with only eleven miles of canal and the death of more than 20,000 men.

In 1902, Roosevelt negotiated the rights to the property for $40 million and started negotiations with Colombia for a treaty. Despite foreboding predictions about the success of such a treaty, Teddy joined with those holding business interests in Panama to stage a revolution. Because it was only for show, soldiers willingly surrendered (after being paid $50 each) and Panama became a nation on November 3, 1903. At first, American efforts were unsuccessful, almost an exact repeat of the French failure. Realizing the need for sanitation – and elimination of mosquitoes – Dr. William Gorgas was called in. Previously, he had successfully lead the cleanup of yellow fever in Havana he conducted similar activities in Panama. Engineering was also changed to the “lake and lock” canal idea, which Roosevelt was a proponent for. This system involved damming the Chagres, creating a lake in the interior of the country. Locks would then raise ships out of the Atlantic to the lake’s level, allowing them to cross to locks on the Pacific side.

Despite more setbacks (including broken equipment, weather, and natural disasters) and another unexpected change of engineers, the Panama Canal was finally completed on September 26, 1913. Nine years after starting their efforts, engineers successfully tested the lock system. The official opening of the Panama Canal took place on August 15, 1914. Unfortunately, with the world immersed in WWI, the completion of one of the most important engineering feats of the 20th century went largely unnoticed.

T.R. Roosevelt and the Panama Canal

Vice-president Theodore Roosevelt became president following the assassination of William McKinley on September 14, 1901. Roosevelt was elected and inaugurated as the 26th elected president of the United States on March 4, 1905. One of his priorities was the construction of the Panama Canal as a necessary step to achieve naval superiority of the United States in the world.

Roosevelt, the first U.S. president to leave the country during his time in office, went to Panama for three days in November 1906, during the worst of the rainy season. On the second day he took the controls of a 95-ton Bucyrus shovel, a moment that epitomized his dynamic and bigger-than-life persona.

Theodore Roosevelt portrait. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Theodore Roosevelt at the controls of a 95-ton Bucyrus shovel in Panama. Panama Canal Company.

Canal Zone 2-cent Roosevelt stamp.

"The first mountain to be removed," cartoon. Harper's Weekly, July 22, 1905.


Claes Maartenszen van Rosenvelt (c. 1626 – 1659), the immigrant ancestor of the Roosevelt family, arrived in New Amsterdam (present-day New York City) sometime between 1638 and 1649. About the year 1652, he bought a farm from Lambert van Valckenburgh, comprising 24 morgens (e.g., 20.44 ha or 50.51 acres) in what is now Midtown Manhattan, including the present site of the Empire State Building. [2] The property included approximately what is now the area between Lexington Avenue and Fifth Avenue bounded by 29th St. and 35th St. [ citation needed ]

Claes' son Nicholas was the first to use the spelling Roosevelt and the first to hold political office, as an alderman. Nicholas' children Johannes and Jacobus were, respectively, the progenitors of the Oyster Bay and Hyde Park branches of the family. By the late 19th century, the Hyde Park Roosevelts were generally associated with the Democratic Party and the Oyster Bay Roosevelts with the Republican Party. President Theodore Roosevelt, an Oyster Bay Roosevelt, was the uncle of Eleanor Roosevelt, later wife of Franklin Roosevelt. Despite political differences that caused family members to actively campaign against each other, the two branches generally remained friendly.

Arms of the Roosevelt family
Adopted17th century
CrestUpon a torse argent and gules, Three ostrich plumes each per pale gules and argent. [3]
BlazonArgent upon a grassy mound a rose bush proper bearing three roses Gules barbed and seeded proper.. [3]
MottoQui plantavit curabit ("He who planted [us] will care [for us]")
Other elementsThe mantling, gules doubled argent. [3]
The Roosevelt arms feature a rose bush in reference to the name: "Roosevelt", which is Dutch for "rose field", [4] making these an example of canting arms.

In heraldry, canting arms are a visual or pictorial depiction of a surname, and were and still are a popular practice. It would be common to find roses, then, in the arms of many Roosevelt families, even unrelated ones (the name Rosenvelt means roses-field). Also, grassy mounds or fields of green would be a familiar attribute.

The Van Roosevelts of Oud-Vossemeer in Zeeland have a coat of arms that is divided horizontally, the top portion with a white chevron between three white roses, while the bottom half is gold with a red lion rampant. A traditional blazon suggested would be, Per fess vert a chevron between three roses argent and Or a lion rampant gules. [3]

The coat of arms of the namesakes of the Dutch immigrant Claes van Rosenvelt, ancestor of the American political family that included Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, were white with a rosebush with three rose flowers growing upon a grassy mound, and whose crest was of three ostrich feathers divided into red and white halves each. In heraldic terms this would be described as, Argent upon a grassy mound a rose bush proper bearing three roses gules barbed and seeded all proper, with a crest upon a torse argent and gules of Three ostrich plumes each per pale gules and argent. Franklin Roosevelt altered his arms to omit the rosebush and use in its place three crossed roses on their stems, changing the blazon of his shield to Three roses one in pale and two in saltire gules barbed seeded slipped and left proper. [3]


After a spirited debate, the U. S. Senate ratifies a treaty with the newly established Republic of Panama on February 23, 1904, giving the United States control over the Panama Canal Zone. Celebrated as the culmination of American technological ingenuity and medical innovation, the Panama Canal officially opened ten years later. At the time no single effort in American history had exacted such a price in dollars or in human life. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Watch the video: Theodore Roosevelt u0026 The Panama Canal (August 2022).

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