Building the Panama Canal: A Brief History
Written by The Big Gringo on September 23rd, 2010 |
The spectacular waterway leading from Panama’s pacific coast to the Caribbean was a concept considered by leaders and businessmen as far back as the early fifteen hundreds. The French were the first to begin construction on the canal. Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps, who was previously in charge of the construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt, organized the effort.
In 1899 the US Congress formed the Isthmian Canal Commission to look at the possibilities of a Central American canal and to recommend a course. At first the commission decided on a route through Nicaragua, but later reversed its decision. The Lesseps Company offered its resources to the United States at a price of forty million. The U.S. and the new state of Panama signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty, by which the United States guaranteed the independence of Panama and secured a permanent lease on a 10-mile strip of the canal. Panama was compensated by an initial payment of ten million dollars and an annuity of two hundred and fifty thousand, beginning in 1913.
The construction of the canal
took place in two stages: the first attempt which spanned from 1881 to 1888 lead by De Lessep, and the second which was lead by the United States and spanned from 1904 until completion in 1914. The French attempt at constructing the canal eventually failed due to widespread disease such as malaria and typhoid carried by mosquitoes and their insufficient machinery.
The first American steam shovel began work on the canal in November of 1904 in which issues of health were better addressed. Mosquitoes were exterminated and workers were living under better conditions than their predecessors. Yet not as crippling as before, they still faced difficulties such as mudslides in Panama’s mountain ranges and illnesses. The Americans persevered and completed building the Panama Canal in 1914. This amazing engineering feat is truly the lifeblood of this beautiful country and one has to see this fifty one mile long sea route for himself to begin to consider and appreciate the years of work, pain, and strife which went into building the Panama Canal.
For more about the Panama Canal check out this post.