The Republic of Nicaragua (República de Nicaragua in Spanish), is the largest country in the Central American isthmus. It occupies a landmass of 50,567 square miles (130,967 km²) and has three distinct geographical regions: the Pacific lowlands — fertile valleys which the Spanish colonists settled, the Amerrisque Mountains (North-central highlands), and the Mosquito Coast (Atlantic lowlands/Caribbean lowlands). The low plains of the Atlantic Coast are 60 miles (97 km) wide in areas. They have long been exploited for their natural resources. On the Pacific side of Nicaragua are the two largest fresh water lakes in Central America — Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua. The country is bordered by Honduras to the north, the Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Geophysically, Nicaragua is surrounded by the Caribbean Plate, an oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Cocos Plate. Since Central America is a major subduction zone, Nicaragua hosts most of the Central American Volcanic Arc.
Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, is the country’s largest city and the third-largest city in Central America. The multi-ethnic population of six million includes indigenous peoples, Europeans, Africans, and Asians. The main language is Spanish. Native tribes on the eastern coast speak their own languages. The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the sixteenth century. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821. Since its independence, Nicaragua has undergone periods of political unrest, dictatorship, and fiscal crisis — the most notable causes that led to the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Nicaragua is a representative democratic republic. The mixture of cultural traditions has generated substantial diversity in art and literature, particularly the latter given the literary contributions of Nicaraguan poets and writers, including Rubén Darío, Pablo Antonio Cuadra and Ernesto Cardenal. The biological diversity, warm tropical climate and active volcanoes make Nicaragua an increasingly popular tourist destination.
There are two prevailing theories on how the name “Nicaragua” came about. The first is that the name was coined by Spanish colonists based on the name Nicarao, who was the chieftain or cacique of a powerful indigenous tribe encountered by the Spanish conquistador Gil González Dávila during his entry into southwestern Nicaragua in 1522. At the time, the tribe’s capital city was called Quauhcapolca. It has since been determined that the cacique‘s real name was Macuilmiquiztli, which meant “Five Deaths” in the Nahuatl language, rather than Nicarao. The second theory is that the country’s name comes from either the Nahuatl words nic-anahuac, which meant “Anahuac reached up to here” or “the Nahuas came up to here”, or from the Nahuatl words nic-atl-nahuac, which meant “here by the water” or “surrounded by water”.
In Pre-Columbian times, in what is now known as Nicaragua, the indigenous people were part of the Intermediate Area, between the Mesoamerican and Andean cultural regions, and within the influence of the Isthmo-Colombian area. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was inhabited by Chibcha language ethnic groups. They had coalesced in Central America and migrated also to present-day northern Colombia and nearby areas. They lived a life based primarily on hunting and gathering.
At the end of the fifteenth century, western Nicaragua was inhabited by several different indigenous peoples related by culture to the Mesoamerican civilizations of the Aztec and Maya, and by language to the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area. The Chorotegas were Mangue language ethnic groups who had arrived in Nicaragua from what is now the Mexican state of Chiapas sometime around 800 CE. The Pipil-Nicarao people were Nahuat-speaking ethnic groups who also had come from Chiapas to Nicaragua in approximately 1200 CE, and had been associated with the Toltec civilization. Both the Chorotegas and the Pipil-Nicaraos were originally from Mexico’s Cholula valley, and had gradually migrated southward.
In 1502, on his fourth voyage, Christopher Columbus became the first European known to have reached what is now Nicaragua as he sailed southeast toward the Isthmus of Panama. Columbus explored the Mosquito Coast on the Atlantic side of Nicaragua but did not encounter any indigenous people. Twenty years later, the Spaniards returned to Nicaragua, this time to its southwestern part. The first attempt to conquer Nicaragua was by the conquistador Gil González Dávila, who had arrived in Panama in January 1520.
In 1522, González Dávila ventured into the area that later became known as the Rivas Department of Nicaragua. It was there that he encountered an indigenous Nahua tribe led by a chieftain named Macuilmiquiztli, whose name has sometimes been erroneously referred to as Nicarao or “Nicaragua”. González Dávila had brought along two indigenous interpreters who had been taught the Spanish language, and thus he was able to have a discourse with Macuilmiquiztli. After exploring and gathering gold in the fertile western valleys, González and his men were attacked and driven off by Chorotega natives led by the chieftain Diriangen. The Spanish attempted to convert the tribes to Christianity; the people in Macuilmiquiztli’s tribe were baptized, but Diriangen, however, was openly hostile to the Spaniards.
The first Spanish permanent settlements were founded in 1524. The conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba founded two of Nicaragua’s principal towns in 1524: Granada on Lake Nicaragua was the first settlement, followed by León at a location west of Lake Managua. Córdoba soon built defenses for the cities and fought against incursions by other conquistadors. Córdoba was later publicly beheaded following a power struggle with Pedro Arias Dávila. His tomb and remains were discovered in 2000 in the ruins of León Viejo.
The clashes among Spanish forces did not impede their destruction of the indigenous people and their culture. The series of battles came to be known as the “War of the Captains”. Pedro Arias Dávila was a winner; although he had lost control of Panama, he moved to Nicaragua and successfully established his base in León. Through adroit diplomatic machinations, he became the first governor of the colony.
Without women in their parties, the Spanish conquerors took Nahua and Chorotega wives and partners, beginning the multiethnic mix of native and European stock now known as “mestizo“, which constitutes the great majority of the population in western Nicaragua. Many indigenous people died as a result of new infectious diseases, compounded by neglect by the Spaniards, who controlled their subsistence.
In 1610, the Momotombo volcano erupted, destroying the capital. It was rebuilt northwest of what is now known as the ruins of Old León. During the American Revolutionary War, Central America was subject to conflict between Britain and Spain. Horatio Nelson led expeditions against San Fernando de Omoa in 1779 and San Juan in 1780, which had temporary success before being abandoned due to disease.
The Captaincy General of Guatemala was dissolved in September 1821 with the Act of Independence of Central America, and Nicaragua soon became part of the First Mexican Empire. After the monarchy of the First Mexican Empire was overthrown in 1823, Nicaragua joined the newly formed United Provinces of Central America, which was later renamed as the Federal Republic of Central America. Nicaragua finally became an independent republic in 1838.
Rivalry between the Liberal elite of León and the Conservative elite of Granada characterized the early years of independence and often degenerated into civil war, particularly during the 1840s and 1850s. Invited by the Liberals in 1855 to join their struggle against the Conservatives, a United States adventurer and filibuster named William Walker set himself up as President of Nicaragua, after conducting a farcical election in 1856. Costa Rica, Honduras, and other Central American countries united to drive Walker out of Nicaragua in 1857, after which a period of three decades of Conservative rule ensued.
Great Britain, which had claimed the Mosquito Coast as a protectorate since 1655, delegated the area to Honduras in 1859 before transferring it to Nicaragua in 1860. The Mosquito Coast remained an autonomous area until 1894. José Santos Zelaya, President of Nicaragua from 1893 to 1909, negotiated the annexation of the Mosquito Coast to the rest of Nicaragua. In his honor, the region was named “Zelaya Department”.
Throughout the late nineteenth century, the United States and several European powers considered a scheme to build a canal across Nicaragua, linking the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic.
In 1909, the United States provided political support to Conservative-led forces rebelling against President Zelaya. On November 18, 1909, U.S. warships were sent to the area after 500 revolutionaries (including two Americans) were executed by order of Zelaya. Zelaya resigned later that year.
In August 1912, the President of Nicaragua, Adolfo Díaz, requested the secretary of war, General Luis Mena, to resign for fear he was leading an insurrection. Mena fled Managua with his brother, the chief of police of Managua, to start an insurrection. When the U.S. legation asked President Díaz to ensure the safety of American citizens and property during the insurrection, he replied he could not, and asked the United States to intervene in the conflict.
United States Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933, except for a nine-month period beginning in 1925. In 1914, the Bryan–Chamorro Treaty was signed, giving the U.S. control over the proposed canal, as well as leases for potential canal defenses. Following the evacuation of U.S. Marines, another violent conflict between Liberals and Conservatives took place in 1926, which resulted in the return of U.S. Marines.
From 1927 until 1933, Gen. Augusto César Sandino (his original name was Augusto Nicolás Calderón Sandino) led a sustained guerrilla war first against the Conservative regime and subsequently against the U.S. Marines, whom he fought for over five years. When the Americans left in 1933, they set up the Guardia Nacional (national guard), a combined military and police force trained and equipped by the Americans and designed to be loyal to U.S. interests.
After the U.S. Marines withdrew from Nicaragua in January 1933, Sandino and the newly elected Sacasa government reached an agreement by which Sandino would cease his guerrilla activities in return for amnesty, a grant of land for an agricultural colony, and retention of an armed band of 100 men for a year. However, due to a growing hostility between Sandino and National Guard director Anastasio Somoza Garcia and a fear of armed opposition from Sandino, Somoza decided to order his assassination. Sandino was invited by President Juan Bautista Sacasa to have dinner and sign a peace treaty at the presidential house in Managua. After leaving the Presidential House, Sandino’s car was stopped by soldiers of the National Guard and they kidnapped him. Later, Sandino was assassinated that same night, on February 21, 1934, by soldiers of the National Guard. Hundreds of men, women, and children from Sandino’s agricultural colony were executed later.
Nicaragua has experienced several military dictatorships, the longest being the hereditary dictatorship of the Somoza family, who ruled for 43 years during the twentieth century. The Somoza family came to power as part of a U.S.-engineered pact in 1927 that stipulated the formation of the Guardia Nacional to replace the marines who had long reigned in the country. Somoza slowly eliminated officers in the national guard who might have stood in his way, and then deposed Sacasa and became president on January 1, 1937, in a rigged election.
Nicaragua declared war on Germany on December 8, 1941, during World War II. No soldiers were sent to the war, but Somoza did seize the occasion to confiscate properties held by German Nicaraguan residents. In 1945, Nicaragua was among the first countries to ratify the United Nations Charter.
On September 21, 1956, Somoza was shot by Rigoberto López Pérez, a 27-year-old Liberal Nicaraguan poet. Luis Somoza Debayle, the eldest son of the late dictator, was appointed president by the congress and officially took charge of the country. He is remembered by some for being moderate, but was in power only for a few years and then died of a heart attack. His successor as president was René Schick Gutiérrez, whom most Nicaraguans viewed “as nothing more than a puppet of the Somozas”.
In 1961, Carlos Fonseca turned back to the historical figure of Sandino, and along with two others (one of which was believed to be Casimiro Sotelo, who was later assassinated), founded the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
The Somoza family was among a few families or groups of influential firms which reaped most of the benefits of the country’s growth from the 1950s to the 1970s. When Anastasio Somoza Debayle was deposed by the Sandinistas in 1979, the family’s worth was estimated to be between US$500 million and US$1.5 billion.
A 1972 earthquake destroyed nearly 90% of Managua, creating major losses. Instead of helping to rebuild Managua, Somoza siphoned off relief money. The mishandling of relief money also prompted Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente to personally fly to Managua on December 31, 1972, but he died en route in an airplane accident. Even the economic elite were reluctant to support Somoza, as he had acquired monopolies in industries that were key to rebuilding the nation. After the 1972 earthquake and Somoza’s apparent corruption, the ranks of the Sandinistas were flooded with young disaffected Nicaraguans who no longer had anything to lose.
In December 1974, a group of the FSLN, in an attempt to kidnap U.S. ambassador Turner Shelton, held some Managuan partygoers hostage (after killing the host, former agriculture minister, Jose Maria Castillo), until the Somozan government met their demands for a large ransom and free transport to Cuba. Somoza granted this, then subsequently sent his national guard out into the countryside to look for the perpetrators of the kidnapping, described by opponents of the kidnapping as “terrorists”.
On January 10, 1978, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, the editor of the national newspaper La Prensa and ardent opponent of Somoza, was assassinated. It is alleged that the planners and perpetrators of the murder were at the highest echelons of the Somoza regime.
The Sandinistas took power in July 1979. The Carter administration decided to work with the new government, while attaching a provision for aid forfeiture if it was found to be assisting insurgencies in neighboring countries. Somoza fled the country and eventually ended up in Paraguay, where he was assassinated in September 1980, allegedly by members of the Argentinian Revolutionary Workers’ Party.
In 1980, the Carter administration provided $60 million in aid to Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, but the aid was suspended when it obtained evidence of Nicaraguan shipment of arms to El Salvadoran rebels. In response to the coming to power of the Sandinistas, various rebel groups collectively known as the “contras” were formed to oppose the new government. The Reagan administration authorized the CIA to help the contra rebels with funding, armaments, and training. The contras operated out of camps in the neighboring countries of Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south.
They engaged in a systematic campaign of terror amongst the rural Nicaraguan population to disrupt the social reform projects of the Sandinistas. Several historians have criticized the contra campaign and the Reagan administration’s support for it, citing the brutality and numerous human rights violations of the contras. LaRamee and Polakoff, for example, describe the destruction of health centers, schools, and cooperatives at the hands of the rebels, and others have contended that murder, rape, and torture occurred on a large scale in contra-dominated areas.
The United States also carried out a campaign of economic sabotage, and disrupted shipping by planting underwater mines in Nicaragua’s port of Corinto, an action condemned by the International Court of Justice as illegal. The U.S. also sought to place economic pressure on the Sandinistas, and the Reagan administration imposed a full trade embargo. The Sandinistas were also accused of human rights abuses.
In the Nicaraguan general elections of 1984, which were judged to have been free and fair, the Sandinistas won the parliamentary election and their leader Daniel Ortega won the presidential election. The Reagan administration criticized the elections as a “sham” based on the charge that Arturo Cruz, the candidate nominated by the Coordinadora Democrática Nicaragüense, comprising three right wing political parties, did not participate in the elections. However, the administration privately argued against Cruz’s participation for fear his involvement would legitimize the elections, and thus weaken the case for American aid to the contras. According to Martin Kriele, the results of the election were rigged.
After the U.S. Congress prohibited federal funding of the contras in 1983, the Reagan administration nonetheless illegally continued to back them by covertly selling arms to Iran and channeling the proceeds to the contras (the Iran–Contra affair), for which several members of the Reagan administration were convicted of felonies. The International Court of Justice, in regard to the case of Nicaragua v. United States in 1984, found, “the United States of America was under an obligation to make reparation to the Republic of Nicaragua for all injury caused to Nicaragua by certain breaches of obligations under customary international law and treaty-law committed by the United States of America”. During the war between the contras and the Sandinistas, 30,000 people were killed.
In the Nicaraguan general election, 1990, a coalition of anti-Sandinista parties (from the left and right of the political spectrum) led by Violeta Chamorro, the widow of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal, defeated the Sandinista and became the first woman president democratically elected in the Americas. The defeat shocked the Sandinistas, who had expected to win. Commentators such as Noam Chomsky and Brian Willson attributed the outcome to the U.S.-contra threats to continue the war if the Sandinistas retained power, the general war-weariness of the Nicaraguan population, and the abysmal Nicaraguan economic situation.
Exit polls of Nicaraguans reported Chamorro’s victory over Ortega was achieved with a 55% majority. Ortega vowed he would govern desde abajo (from below). Chamorro came to office with an economy in ruins, primarily because of the financial and social costs of the contra war with the Sandinista-led government. In the next election, the Nicaraguan general election, 1996, Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas of the FSLN were defeated again, this time by Arnoldo Alemán of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC).
In the 2001 elections, the PLC again defeated the FSLN, with Alemán’s Vice President Enrique Bolaños succeeding him as President. Subsequently, however, Alemán was convicted and sentenced in 2003 to 20 years in prison for embezzlement, money laundering, and corruption; liberal and Sandinista parliament members subsequently combined to strip the presidential powers of President Bolaños and his ministers, calling for his resignation and threatening impeachment. The Sandinistas said they no longer supported Bolaños after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Bolaños to keep his distance from the FSLN. This “slow motion coup d’état” was averted partially by pressure from the Central American presidents, who vowed not to recognize any movement that removed Bolaños; the U.S., the OAS, and the European Union also opposed the action.
Before the general elections on November 5, 2006, the National Assembly passed a bill further restricting abortion in Nicaragua. As a result, Nicaragua is one of five countries in the world where abortion is illegal with no exceptions. Legislative and presidential elections took place on November 5, 2006. Ortega returned to the presidency with 37.99% of the vote. This percentage was enough to win the presidency outright, because of a change in electoral law which lowered the percentage requiring a runoff election from 45% to 35% (with a 5% margin of victory). Nicaragua’s 2011 general election resulted in re-election of Ortega, with a landslide victory and 62.46% of the vote. In 2014 the National Assembly approved changes to the constitution allowing Ortega to run for a third successive term.
Today, Nicaragua is among the poorest countries in the Americas. Its gross domestic product (GDP) in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2008 was estimated at $17.37 billion USD. Agriculture represents 17% of GDP, the highest percentage in Central America. Remittances account for over 15% of the Nicaraguan GDP. Close to one billion dollars are sent to the country by Nicaraguans living abroad. The economy grew at a rate of about 4% in 2011.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, 48% of the population of Nicaragua live below the poverty line, 79.9% of the population live with less than $2 per day, According to UN figures, 80% of the indigenous people (who make up 5% of the population) live on less than $1 per day.
Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country; agriculture constitutes 60% of its total exports which annually yield approximately US $300 million. Nearly two-thirds of the coffee crop comes from the northern part of the central highlands, in the area north and east of the town of Estelí. Soil erosion and pollution from the heavy use of pesticides have become serious concerns in the cotton district. Yields and exports have both been declining since 1985. Today most of Nicaragua’s bananas are grown in the northwestern part of the country near the port of Corinto; sugarcane is also grown in the same district. Cassava, a root crop somewhat similar to the potato, is an important food in tropical regions. Cassava is also the main ingredient in tapioca pudding. Nicaragua’s agricultural sector has benefited because of the country’s strong ties to Venezuela. It is estimated that Venezuela will import approximately $200 million in agricultural goods. In the 1990s, the government initiated efforts to diversify agriculture. Some of the new export-oriented crops were peanuts, sesame, melons, and onions.
Fishing boats on the Caribbean side bring shrimp as well as lobsters into processing plants at Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, and Laguna de Perlas. A turtle fishery thrived on the Caribbean coast before it collapsed from overexploitation.
Mining is becoming a major industry in Nicaragua, contributing less than 1% of gross domestic product (GDP). Restrictions are being placed on lumbering due to increased environmental concerns about destruction of the rain forests. But lumbering continues despite these obstacles; indeed, a single hardwood tree may be worth thousands of dollars.
During the war between the US-backed contras and the government of the Sandinistas in the 1980s, much of the country’s infrastructure was damaged or destroyed. Transportation throughout the nation is often inadequate. For example, one cannot travel all the way by highway from Managua to the Caribbean coast. The road ends at the town of El Rama. Travelers have to transfer and make the rest of the trip by riverboat down the Río Escondido — a five-hour journey. The Centroamérica power plant on the Tuma River in the Central highlands has been expanded, and other hydroelectric projects have been undertaken to help provide electricity to the nation’s newer industries. Nicaragua has long been considered as a possible site for a new sea-level canal that could supplement the Panama Canal.
Nicaragua’s minimum wage is among the lowest in the Americas and in the world. Remittances are equivalent to roughly 15% of the country’s gross domestic product. Growth in the maquila sector slowed in the first decade of the twenty-first century with rising competition from Asian markets, particularly China. Land is the traditional basis of wealth in Nicaragua, with great fortunes coming from the export of staples such as coffee, cotton, beef, and sugar. Almost all of the upper class and nearly a quarter of the middle class are substantial landowners.
Nicaragua is currently a member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, which is also known as ALBA. ALBA has proposed creating a new currency, the Sucre, for use among its members. In essence, this means that the Nicaraguan córdoba will be replaced with the Sucre. Other nations that will follow a similar pattern include: Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Honduras, Cuba, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda.
Every year about 60,000 U.S. citizens visit Nicaragua, primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives. Some 5,300 people from the U.S. reside in the country now. The majority of tourists who visit Nicaragua are from the U.S., Central or South America, and Europe. According to the Ministry of Tourism of Nicaragua (INTUR), the colonial cities of León and Granada are the preferred spots for tourists. Also, the cities of Masaya, Rivas and the likes of San Juan del Sur, El Ostional, El Castillo, Rio San Juan, Ometepe Island, Mombacho Volcano, the Corn Islands, and others are main tourist attractions. In addition, ecotourism, Sport fishing and surfing attract many tourists to Nicaragua.
Nicaragua is referred to as “the land of lakes and volcanoes” due to the number of lagoons and lakes, and the chain of volcanoes that runs from the north to the south along the country’s Pacific side. Today, only seven of the 50 volcanoes in Nicaragua are considered active. Many of these volcanoes offer some great possibilities for tourists with activities such as hiking, climbing, camping, and swimming in crater lakes.
Tourism has grown considerably recently, and it is now the second largest industry in the nation. President Daniel Ortega has stated his intention to use tourism to combat poverty throughout the country.
British post offices were opened at Bluefields on the Mosquito Coast and Greytown in 1857. British stamps were used from Greytown with cancellation C57 from 1865-82. It has produced its own stamps since 1862. The Bluefields office was closed in 1863. In 1890, Nicaragua was one of the Central American countries that agreed to let Nicholas Frederick Seebeck and the Hamilton Bank Note Company print their stamps in exchange for unlimited reprinting rights. This followed until 1900 when the agreement was revoked. In 1904-12, separate stamps were overprinted locally for use in Bluefields (Zelaya) and Cabo Gracias a Dios. These were in a different currency because the value of the peso in these areas was higher than in the remainder of the country. A further general issue was made in February 1912 for six months.
An earthquake leveled the Managua post office on March 31, 1931, and an 18-stamp set was produced to mark the disaster (Scott #556-568 and #C20-C24). The stamps were only on sale on January 1, 1932, and the proceeds were for the reconstruction of the building and the improvement of the postal service. After the earthquake of March 31, 1931, Will Rogers flew his plane there to gather support for the country. A five-stamp domestic postage air post issue was issued on March 31, 1939, in honor of the event (Scott #C236-C240).
The 2-centavo orange red stamp (Scott #237) was engraved and printed by the American Bank Note Company, perforated 12. It portrays Rogers standing next to an airplane of Pan American Airlines. Not only did Rogers donate $5,000 of his own money to the earthquake relief efforts, but he actually started a fundraising campaign in the U.S. According to the official Red Cross report on the 1931 Managua earthquake,
“A few days after the earthquake, while the horrible experiences of the disaster still lay heavily upon the shoulders of those who were attempting to inject some semblance of order into the existing confusion, Will Rogers flew into Managua. He brought the compassion of a big human heart and the sympathy that cheers and stimulates hope. He remained only a day or so, but the reviving influence of his remarkable personality was felt on all sides, from the President of the Republic to the distressed in the streets. But he had done even more than that. He had been in Managua only a few hours, when he issued an appeal to Americans at home to help in the relief of the stricken city. He did not tell them, of course, that he had opened the fund with a personal contribution of $5,000.
“Response to his appeal was immediate and generous. Hundreds of contributions were received. A “Resident of Palm Beach, Florida,” who preferred to withhold his identity, sent, through his bank, a draft for $5,000. Mrs. Ada T. Huntzinger and her three children of San Marino, California, contributed $2,013. There were several contributions of from $100 to $250. The great majority of the donations were for sums under $10. The contribution of Misses Nancy Peters (11 years), Betty Jean (9 years), and Lonon Andross (7 years), and Betty Peters (7 years), of Long Beach, California, was especially touching. They contributed $1.66, the proceeds of a sale of orangeade, which they held on their front lawn for relief of distress in Managua. The Maracaibo Herald of Maracaibo, Venezuela, heard of Mr. Rogers’ appeal and collected and forwarded to Red Cross Headquarters in Washington $1,074.83 for Managua relief. Total contributions as a result of Will Rogers’ appeal, including his own, were $19,525.70.“
According to The New York Times, Rogers arrived in Managua on April 8, 1931, Not long after, the Times published brief letter from Rogers to its editor:
“To the Editor of the New York Times:
“MANAGUA, Nicaragua, April 9.—The President says to the Minister Hanna, “I wonder what Rogers can find humorous in our pitiful plight?”
“Well, you know, these little small shakes occur quite frequently. This morning, just as the reveille bugle was blowing, one come and every-body jumped out of bed, so now they are going to use a quake instead of reveille every morning.
“Here is some news for the anti-prohibitionists. Everything in town—churches, schools, banks, stores—was destroyed but the brewery. But it was an act of providence at that, for the water-works were destroyed and all they had to drink was beer. The commandant sent twenty marines to protect it and with the 100 that was already there, why, they were able to hold it.
“Even a quake has its good points. The Senate and Cabinet run out of town and haven’t shown up since. What Hoover would give for the recipe!
“Flew today with Major Mitchell, head of the air forces of the marines. Went all over the bandit country they patrol. You have to see this terrible mountainous country to see what these aviators have been up against. I could tell you for a week some of the things these aviators have done in this country.
“Now, they need money here and they need help. The poor people just walk about dazed. Money is needed to help feed ’em and restore some sort of roof over their heads.
Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son”, William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers was born to a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma) on November 4, 1879 He was a stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, American cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist, and social commentator. Rogers traveled around the world three times, made 71 movies (50 silent films and 21 “talkies”), and wrote more than 4,000 nationally syndicated newspaper columns. By the mid-1930s, the American people adored Rogers. He was the leading political wit of his time, and was the highest paid Hollywood movie star. Rogers died on August 15, 1935 with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed in northern Alaska.
Rogers’s vaudeville rope act led to success in the Ziegfeld Follies, which in turn led to the first of his many movie contracts. His 1920s syndicated newspaper column and his radio appearances increased his visibility and popularity. Rogers crusaded for aviation expansion, and provided Americans with first-hand accounts of his world travels. His earthy anecdotes and folksy style allowed him to poke fun at gangsters, prohibition, politicians, government programs, and a host of other controversial topics in a way that was appreciated by a national audience, with no one offended. His aphorisms, couched in humorous terms, were widely quoted: “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Another widely quoted Will Rogers comment was “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Rogers even provided an epigram on his most famous epigram:
“When I die, my epitaph, or whatever you call those signs on gravestones, is going to read: “I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I dident [sic] like.” I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.“
Rogers became an advocate for the aviation industry after noticing advancements in Europe and befriending Charles Lindbergh, the most famous aviator of the era. During his 1926 European trip, he witnessed the European advances in commercial air service and compared them to the almost nonexistent facilities in the United States. Rogers’ newspaper columns frequently emphasized the safety record, speed, and convenience of this means of transportation, and he helped shape public opinion on the subject.
In 1935 the famed aviator Wiley Post, a fellow Oklahoman, became interested in surveying a mail-and-passenger air route from the West Coast to Russia. He attached a Lockheed Explorer wing to a Lockheed Orion fuselage, fitting floats for landing in the lakes of Alaska and Siberia. Rogers visited Post often at the airport in Burbank, California while he was modifying the aircraft, and asked Post to fly him through Alaska in search of new material for his newspaper column. In a 1971 piece for Smithsonian, it was argued that when the floats Post had ordered did not arrive at Seattle in time, he used a set that was designed for a larger type, making the already nose-heavy hybrid aircraft still more nose-heavy. However, according to the research of Bryan Sterling, the floats were the correct type for the aircraft.
After making a test flight in July, Post and Rogers left Lake Washington in Renton in the Lockheed Orion-Explorer in early August and then made several stops in Alaska. While Post piloted the aircraft, Rogers wrote his columns on his typewriter. Before they left Fairbanks they signed and mailed a burgee, a distinguishing flag belonging to the South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club. The signed burgee is on display at South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, California.
On August 15, they left Fairbanks, Alaska for Point Barrow. They were about 20 miles southwest of Point Barrow when they became uncertain of their position in bad weather and landed in a lagoon to ask directions. On takeoff, the engine failed at low altitude, and the aircraft plunged into the lagoon, shearing off the right wing, and ended up inverted in the shallow water of the lagoon. Both men died instantly. Rogers was buried August 21, 1935 in Forest Lawn Park in Glendale, California; this would prove to be a temporary interment. On May 19, 1944, Rogers’s body was moved from the holding vault in Glendale to the family tomb in nearby Claremore, Oklahoma, which stands on the site purchased by Rogers in 1911 for his retirement home; his wife Betty was interred beside him later that year upon her death.