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Sunday, 11 December 2016

Panama Canal


The first attempt to construct a canal through what was then Colombia's province of Panama began on January 1, 1881. The original construction company, headed by the French diplomat Ferdinand de. Lesseps, began construction, but collapsed in 1889 because of financial scandals and the tropical diseases killing off the workers.

Excavator at work, in Bas Obispo, 1886

USS Oregon (BB-3) was a pre-Dreadnought Indiana-class battleship of the United States Navy. Her voyage from California around South America to the East Coast in March 1898 in preparation for war with Spain popularized the ship with the American public and demonstrated the need for a shorter route, which led to US interest in the construction of the Panama Canal.

In January 1903, The Hay–Herrán Treaty was signed by United States Secretary of State John M. Hay and Colombian Chargé Dr. Tomás Herrán granting the United States a renewable lease in perpetuity from Colombia on the land proposed for the canal. The treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate on March 14, 1903, but the Senate of Colombia did not ratify it.

Panama achieved full independence from Colombia on November 3, 1903 with US support. At the same time the USA bought the rights to build the Panama Canal.

The U.S. formally took control of the canal property on May 4, 1904, inheriting from the French a vast jumble of buildings, infrastructure and equipment, much of it in poor condition.

In the first foreign trip by a U.S. president, Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Panama in 1906 to see first-hand the progress on the canal.

President Theodore Roosevelt sitting on a steam shovel at Culebra Cut, 1906
The French construction of the Panama Canal in the 1880s had been disturbed by the prevalence of yellow fever and malaria for a number of years. 20,000 lives were lost and the French builders were forced to offer excessively high wages to persuade men to work there. When the Americans took over the project a decade and a half later, the colonel placed in charge was William Gorgas, who a few years previously succeeded in virtually eliminating yellow fever in Havana, Cuba. After two years of cleaning up the area, quarantining victims of the diseases and eliminating the mosquitoes, the incidence of malaria greatly decreased, and the yellow fever was completely eradicated.

France lost so many workers during its failed attempt to dig the Panama Canal, that for a time their project's main source of income was selling the corpses (pickled in brine water) to medical schools all over the world as cadavers.

The SS Ancon, was the first ocean steamer to pass through the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914.

SS Ancon passing through the canal on 15 August 1914, the first ship to do so

The United States spent almost $375,000,000 (roughly equivalent to $8,600,000,000 today) on building the Panama project. This was by far the largest American engineering project to date.

In 1977 an agreement was signed for the total transfer of the Canal from the United States to Panama by the end of the 20th century.

On December 31, 1999 Panama took control of the Panama Canal Zone from the United States, in accordance with the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties.

The lowest toll ever paid to use the Canal crossing was $0.36 which was paid by Richard Halliburton when he swam the canal in 1928.

The highest ever toll paid for the Panama Canal crossing was $376,000 which was levied by the Norwegian Pearl cruise ship in 2010.

A third, wider lane of locks was constructed between September 2007 and May 2016. The expanded canal began commercial operation on June 26, 2016.


The Panama Canal is 50 miles long, and takes 8-10 hours for ships to pass through, depending on traffic.

Over 30 ships sail through the canal each day, all using the help of a specially-approved pilot.

The Panama Canal is responsible for one third of Panama’s economy.

The Panama Canal transports 4% of worldwide trade and 16% of U.S trade.

Between 12,000 and 15,000 ships pass through the canal annually, with the United States, Japan, Chile and North Korea using it the most.

A boat voyaging from New York to San Francisco saves 7,872 miles using the Panama Canal, instead of going via Cape Horn.

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