History of the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal history dates back to the early explorers of the Americas. The narrow land bridge between North and South America offered a unique opportunity to create a waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The first settlers of Central America recognized the potential of this waterway and has since repeatedly construction plans were outlined.

At the end of the 1800s serious beginning construction, due to the enormous technological advances and the insistence of investors were given. France was the first to take the initiative to build a sea-level canal, but failed, even after making a lot of excavations. The United States took advantage of this French effort which resulted in the present Panama Canal opened in 1914. The Republic of Panama established its independence, by its separation from Colombia in 1903. Today the Panama Canal remains a profitable business enterprise and also maintains its fundamental performance of maritime connection. The strategic location of the Panama Canal and its short distance between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, has caused for many centuries other attempts to copy the marketing route between the two oceans. Although initial plans between a land route linking the ports between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was afoot, speculation about a possible channel back to the first European explorations in Panama.

Carlos V

In 1514, Vasco Nunez de Balboa led Europeans to discover the eastern Pacific, and built a simple way that he used to haul their ships from Santa Maria La Antigua del Darién on the Atlantic coast of Panama to the Bay of San Miguel and the South Sea (Pacific). This road was about 300 to 400 miles (645 km) long, but was soon abandoned.

In November 1529, Captain Antonio Tello de Guzmán discovered a road that crossed the isthmus from the Gulf of Panama to Portobelo, past the site of Nombre de Dios. This road had been used by indigenous peoples for centuries, and was well designed. It was improved and paved by the Spaniards, and became El Camino Real. This road was used to haul looted gold to the warehouse in Portobelo for transportation to Spain, and was the largest first cargo crossing the Isthmus of Panama [1] {{ref}} template is obsolete, see the new system references..

In 1526, Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and king of Spain, suggested that cutting a piece of land somewhere in Panama, traveling from Ecuador and Peru would be shorter facts and allow faster travel and less risky return to Spain for ships carrying goods, especially gold. An inspection of the Isthmus and a work plan for a canal were developed in 1560. The imperialist political situation and the level of technology at the time made it possible.

The road from Portobelo to the Pacific had its problems, and in the year 1553, Mr. Gaspar de Espinosa recommended to the king that a new road was not built. His plan was to build a road from the city of Panama, which was the terminal in the Pacific El Camino Real, to the city of Cruces, on the banks of the Chagres River and about 20 miles (35 kilometers) from El Paraguay. Once in the Chagres River, boats would transport cargo to the Caribbean. This road was built, and was known as El Camino de Cruces. At the mouth of the Chagres, the small town of Chagres was fortified, and the strength of San Lorenzo was built on a hill overlooking the area. From Chagres, treasures and goods were transported to the warehouse of the king in Portobelo, to be stored until the treasure fleet left for Spain.

This journey lasted many years, and was used even in the 1840s by prospectors infected with gold fever running through California.

The attempt to Scotland

Main article: The Darien scheme

In July 1668, Mark Duke built five ships, leaving Leith, Scotland, in an attempt to establish a colony in Darien, as the basis for a trade route to China and Japan by land and sea. The settlers landed on the shores of Darien, in November, and declared as Colonia New Caledonia. However, the expedition was poorly organized for the hostile conditions; poorly led and ridden by disease, the colonists finally abandoned New Edinburgh, leaving behind 400 graves.

Unfortunately, a rescue expedition had already left Scotland coming to the colony in November 1699, but faced the same difficulties as well as the site and the Spanish defense. Finally, on April 12, 1700, Caledonia was abandoned for the last time, ending this venture desastrosa.1 blabla

Panama Railroad

Since the Camino Real, and later the trail of Las Cruces, served communication across the isthmus for over three centuries, by the 19th century it was clear that a cheaper and faster alternative was needed. Given the difficulty of building a canal with available technology, a railway seemed an excellent opportunity.

The studies were carried out to the end as early as 1827; Several plans were proposed, and foundered for lack of capital. However, by mid-century, several factors turned in favor of a connection: the acquisition of Alta California by the United States in 1848, and the increasing movement of settlers to the West Coast, creating a demand for a fast track between the oceans, which was further fueled by the discovery of gold in California.

Panama Railway was built across the isthmus from 1850 to 1855, covering 47 miles (76 km) Colon, on the Atlantic coast, to the city of Panama in the Pacific. The project was an engineering marvel of its time, which was held in brutally difficult conditions. Although there is no way of knowing the exact number of workers who died during construction, it is estimated from 6,000 up to 12,000 dead, many of them from cholera and malaria.

Until the opening of the Panama Canal, the railroad transported the increased freight volume per unit length of any railroad in the world. The existence of the railroad was instrumental in the selection of Panama as the site of the channel.

The French project

1888 German map of the Panama Canal (includes alternative route for Nicaragua)

The idea of building a canal through Central America was suggested again by the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt, which led to a resurgence of interest in the early 19th century In 1819, the Spanish government authorized the construction of a canal and the creation of a company to build it. The project was halted for some time, but a series of surveys were conducted between 1850 and 1875. The conclusion was that the two most favorable routes were through Panama (then part of Colombia) and through Nicaragua, with a route across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico as a third option. Nicaragua route was considered seriously and respondents.


After the successful completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, the French were inspired to address the apparently similar project to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and hoped that this could be accomplished with little difficulty. In 1876, an international company, La Société internationale du Canal interocéanique, was created to do the job, two years later, he obtained a concession from the Colombian government, which then controlled the land, to dig a canal across the isthmus. Ferdinand de Lesseps, who was in charge of the construction of the Suez Canal, is the key figure of the regime. His enthusiastic leadership, along with his reputation as the man who had brought the project of Suez to a successful conclusion, he convinced speculators and ordinary citizens to invest in the plan, ultimately, to the tune of almost $ 400 million. However, de Lesseps, despite his earlier success was not an engineer. The construction of the Suez Canal, essentially a trench dug by a flat, sandy desert, presents some challenges, but Panama would be a very different story. The mountainous backbone of Central America is a low point in Panama, but still rises to a height of 110 meters (360.9 feet) above sea level at the lowest crossing point. A sea-level canal, as proposed by De Lesseps, would require a prodigious excavation, and through various hardnesses of the rock instead of sand easy Suez. The task of cataloging the goods was immense, but it took several weeks simply an index card equipment available. 2,148 buildings had been acquired, [citation needed] many of which were completely uninhabitable, and housing was originally a major problem. Panama Railroad is in a serious state of decay. However, there was much that was meaningful use; many locomotives, dredgers and other pieces of floating equipment were put to good use by Americans in all their construction effort. John Findley Wallace was elected chief engineer of the canal on May 6, 1904, and immediately was forced to “fly to the earth.” However, excessively bureaucratic oversight Washington drowned initial efforts to get large forces of heavy machinery in place quickly, and caused a lot of friction between Wallace and the Commission. Both Wallace and chief medical officer, William C. Gorgas, determined to make great progress as quickly as possible, they were frustrated by delays and bureaucracy at all times and, finally, in 1905, Wallace resigned.

This elevation map of the Panama Canal, prepared in 1923, shows the topology of the region through which the canal was cut.


A less obvious barrier was presented by the rivers crossing the channel, particularly the Chagres River, which flows very strongly in the rainy season. This water could not simply be poured into the channel as it could represent an extreme danger to navigation, and so require a sea level canal to divert the river, which cuts across the canal route.

The most serious problem of all, however, were tropical diseases, malaria and yellow fever in particular. Since it was not known at the time how are you contracted diseases, all precautions against these were doomed to failure. For example, the legs of hospital beds were placed in metal boxes of water to prevent insects from climbing in, but these containers with standing water were ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes, the carriers of these diseases, which worsened the problem. From the beginning, the project was plagued by lack of engineering experience. In May 1879, an international engineering congress was held in Paris, with Ferdinand de Lesseps to the head; of the 136 delegates, however, only 42 were engineers, others were built by speculators, political and personal friends Lesseps.

De Lesseps was convinced that a sea level canal, dug through the rocky mountain chain and Central America, could be completed as easily as, or even more easily than the Suez Canal. The engineering congress estimated the project cost at $ 214 million, 14 February 1880, a commission of engineering revised this estimate to 168, $ 600,000. De Lesseps twice reduced this estimate, with no apparent justification, on 20 February to $ 131.6 million, and again on March 1 to $ 120 million. The engineering congress estimated seven to eight years as the time required to complete the work, de Lesseps reduced the time to six years, compared with the ten years required for the Suez Canal.

The channel level proposed would have a uniform depth of 9 meters (29.5 feet), a width of 22 meters depth (72.2 feet), and a width at water level of about 27.5 meters (90 , 2 feet), and involved an estimated 120 million m3 (157 million cubic yards) excavation. It was proposed that a dam was built in Gamboa to control flooding of the Chagres River, along with canals to carry water away from the canal. However, the Gamboa Dam was found later to be impracticable, and Chagres River problem was left unresolved.

Start of work

El Corte Culebra in 1885

Construction of the canal began on January 1, 1882, although the excavations in the snake cut did not start until 22 January 1882. In 1888 contract a huge workforce of 20,000 people, nine-tenths of this group were from workers West Indies. French ingenerieros were well paid and prestige of the project attracted the best school of French engineers, but the huge number of deaths from diseases hampered their working withholding returned after a short time served or died. It was estimated that the total number of deaths between 1881 and 1889 was greater than 22,000. Exactly at the beginning of 1885, it was clear to many that the sea-level canal was impractical and that an elevated canal with locks was the best alternative; however, de Lesseps was persistent, and it was not until October 1887 that the sluice channel plan was adopted. By this time, however, the financial amount, engineering and problems of mortality, along with frequent floods and mudslide were making clear that the project was in serious trouble. The work was driven under the new plan until May 1889, when the company came to be bankrupt, and the work was finally suspended on 15 May 1889. After eight years, two-fifth of the work was completed, and about $ 234, 795,000 had been spent.


Canal Frances Action 1888, with lottery included

The collapse of the company was a huge scandal in France, and the role of two Jewish speculators in the scandalous business allowed Edouard Drumont, an anti-Semite, seize the issue. 104 legislators were found involved in corruption and Jean Jaures was commissioned by the French parliament to lead the new company Panamá.2 channel

New French company

It soon became clear that the only way to save something for shareholders was to continue the project. A new award was obtained by Colombia, and in 1894 the Nouvelle du Canal de Panama company was created to complete construction. In order to abide by the terms of the concession, immediately he began the work in excavations Culebra- cut which would be required under any possible plant while a team of competent engineers began a comprehensive study of the project. The plan was possibly established for the base channel exclusas two levels. The new effort never really gained momentum; the main reason for this was speculation the United States of America on the construction of a canal through Nicaragua, which become useless Panama Canal. The largest number of men employed in the new project was 3,600 in 1896; this minimum workforce was employed first to agree the terms of the concession and digging and keep existing equipment in a condition vendible- the company had already started looking for a buyer, with a tagged price of $ 109 million.

Even to this date, no decision had been made about whether the channel should be a lock canal or a channel excavation level framework that was under the road would be useful in any case. In late 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt sent a team of engineers to Panama to investigate the relative merits of both projects and as related to cost and time requirements. The engineers decided in favor of sea-level canal, by a vote of eight to five; but the commission of the channel and the same Stevens, opposed this project, and the Stevens report Roosevelt was essential to convince the president of the merit of the project based sluices. The Senate and House representative ratified the project based on sluices, and the work was formally free to continue under this plan. In November 1906, Roosevelt visited Panama to inspect the progress of the channel. This was the first trip abroad for a president in charge. Another controversy this time was whether the work of the canal must be carried out by contractors or by the government of the United States. Opinions were sharply divided but Stevens eventually came to favor the direct approach and this was finally adopted by Roosevelt. However, Roosevelt also decided that armed force engineers should carry out the work and appointed George Washington Goethals greater as the chief engineer under the leadership of Stevens in February 1907.

Transfer to US

Meanwhile, in the US, the eighth channel commission established in 1899 to analyze the possibilities of a Central American canal and to recommend a route. In November 1901, the commission reported that a US channel should be built through nicaraguas unless the French were willing to accept 40, 000,000. This recommendation it became a law on June 28, 1902, and the New Panama Canal was virtually forced to sell for that amount or not to perform the construction.

Although the French effort was largely doomed from the start because of the indisposition without resolving the issue, and insufficient appreciation of the difficulties of engineering, its work was, however, not totally useless. Among the new and old companies, the French dug in total 59, 747, 638 m3 (78, 146, 960 cu yd) of material, the end of which 14 255.890 m3 (18, 646,000 cu yd) were removed from the Court Snake. The former company excavated from Panama Balboa Bay to the port; also the channel dug in the Atlantic, better known as French channel, which found it useful to extract sand and stone to block specific leaks in Gatun.

Studies and detailed surveys, particularly those carried out by the new company were of great help to the American effort, with significant machinery, including rail equipment and vehicles, were a great help in the early years of the American project.

In short, it was estimated that 22 713.396 m3 (29, 708,000 cu yd) of the excavation were direct use by the Americans, valued at $ 25, 389.240, together with the team and surveys valued at $ 17, 410.586.

Nicaragua Canal.

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 and the rate of future mining stimulus the US interest in creating a channel between the oceans. In 1887, a US regiment step to study the possibility of a canal in Nicaragua. In 1889, The Maritime Canal Company began to create a channel in the area, chose Nicaraguas. The company lost its funding in 1893 as a result of a common panic, the works were suspended in Nicaragua. In both 1897 and 1899, Congress Canal charge a commission to study the possible construction, and Nicaragua was chosen as the place twice.

The Nicaraguan Canal proposal was finally dismissed by the seizure of the French on the Panama Canal project. However, the rise of modern shipping, and increasing sizes of ships, have revived interest in the project; new proposals for a modern canal in Nicaragua transport layers of post-Panamax ships or rail link to transport containers between ports on both coast.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt President of the United States in 1901, thought that a channel travez Central America controlled by the United States, would be of vital strategic importance. The idea became more important after the destruction in Cuba warship USS Maine on February 15, 1898. The warship USS Oregon was anchored in San Francisco, came to take the place of the USS Maine, and the trip delayed 67 days around Cape Horn. Although the warship USS Oregon arrived in time to participate in the Battle of Santiago Bay, Cuba, the trip had taken just three weeks by way of Panama.

Roosevelt was able to reverse a previous decision of the Walker Commission was in favor of a canal through Nicaragua. Roosevelt pressed on the issue of the acquisition of the French Panama Canal efforts. George S. Morrison remained alone in the Walker Commission putting pressure on the construction of the Panama canal and maintained his argument for this change. Panama still belonged to Colombia so Roosevelt began negotiations with the Republic of Colombia to obtain the necessary building rights in the Panama Canal. In early 1903 the Treaty was signed Herran-Hay between the United States and Colombia Colombia but the Senate failed to ratify this treaty.

In a controversial move, Roosevelt implied to Panamanian rebels that if they revolted, the US Navy help their cause for independence. Panama proceeded to proclaim its independence on November 3, 1903, and the USS Nashville in local waters impeded any interference from Colombia (see gunboat diplomacy).

Panama Independence

The victorious Panamanians returned the favor to Roosevelt by allowing the control of the United States of the Panama Canal Zone on February 23, 1904, in the amount of 10 million US dollars (as stipulated in the Hay-Bunau-Varilla signed on November 18, 1903).

The seizure of power

The United States formally took over the French property on the channel on May 4, 1904, when Lieutenant Jatara Oneel the United States Army received the keys, there was a small ceremony. The recent creation of the Control Zone Panama Canal was under the control of the Isthmian Canal Commission during construction of the canal.

Americans had bought the channel essentially as an ongoing operation, and indeed the first step was to place all workers in the canal in the use of the new administration. However, this was not so useful for the project as noted, since the operation was at that point to be maintained essentially the minimum force in order to comply with its license and keep the plant operating conditions.

Americans, on the other hand inherited a small work force, but to turn a big jumble of buildings, infrastructure and equipment, many of whom had been the victim of fifteen years of neglect in the harsh environment of the rainforest. There was virtually no facilities in place for a large workforce, and infrastructure is crumbling. The early years of American jobs on the other hand produced little in terms of real progress, but in many ways the most crucial and most difficult project.

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