The Panama Canal was built between 1904 and 1914 and over the intervening years has provided passage for over 800,000 boats between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The construction of the Panama Canal was one of the world’s greatest engineering projects.
United States engineers excavated over 240 million cubic yards of rock and dirt, and find a place for it and military doctors had to overcome tropical diseases that had killed over 20,000 workers in the French effort to build a canal.
The Panama Canal is a system of man made channels, locks, dams, and artificial lakes that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean by way of the Isthmus of Panama. Panama Canal allows ships to cross the fifty mile wide isthmus at the narrowest part of the Americas. The Panama Canal uses locks to allow ships to enter the system from either ocean and to be raised to the level of an artificial lake, 26 meters above sea level. Boats transit central Panama via Lake Gatun before being lowered to sea level on the other side.
In the construction of the Panama Canal the Chagres River was blocked by Gatun Dam so that a central valley filled with runoff from Panama’s tropical rains thus forming Lake Gatun. Also, a 7.8 mile long, manmade valley called the Culebra Cut was dug and blasted through a ridge in the mountains of central Panama to connect Lake Gatun with the Pacific side of the canal system.
Using the Panama Canal allows a ship to avoid the Drake Passage around Cape Horn at the tip of South America. This saves 8000 miles for ships that start and end their voyages north of Panama.
History of the Panama Canal
A working plan for a canal across Panama was drawn up as early as 1529 but no attempts were ever made to dig a canal until 1880. The builder of the Suez Canal, Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps, organized a French effort to build a canal across Panama.
He started work in 1880 on a sea level canal. The effort was unsuccessful due to Yellow Fever and Malaria that killed 20,000 workers. French investors were left with unusable property which they eventually sold to the United States for its Panama Canal construction.
Panama Canal Construction 1904 to 1914
The United States, under President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama and negotiated with the government of Colombia as Panama was then part of Colombia. When Colombia refused to grant a concession the USA backed a rebellion in Panama and received the rights to build and operate a canal in return for guaranteeing Panamanian sovereignty.
The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed with Panama in 1903 and gave the United States the right to build and operate the canal. The first Americans arrived for the Panama Canal construction effort in 1904. The first years were spent in preparation. American engineers decided on the construction of a lock canal, and started by developing construction facilities and working at eradicating tropical diseases in the area.
Panama Canal construction began in 1909. It was one of the largest construction projects of all time. Not only did they excavate 240 million cubic yards of earth but they had to find places to put it as the torrential rain in Panama caused constant mudslides. Much of the rock and earth was carried by rail to the Panama City side of the canal and was used to fill in between the islands that now make up the Amador Causeway.
The final cost of Panama Canal construction was close to $400 million in building the 40-mile-long canal. The usual figure of fifty miles includes the dredged seabed at both end of the canal.
A number of boats passed through the canal in 1914 but continual mudslides required re-excavation. It was not until August 15, 1914 that the construction of the Panama Canal was officially opened to traffic. Coincidentally World War I began the same month.
The Panama Canal Authority (Autoridad del Canal de Panamá, ACP) is the autonomous Panama government entity that runs the canal today. It took over at the end of 1999 when the USA relinquished all control. ACP is currently in the midst of a major construction project that will add an entire set of much larger locks to the Panama Canal. The project is projected to be finished in 2014, perhaps by the 100th birthday of the Panama Canal.
For more information about the Panama Canal please contact one of Panama experts today.
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