Discover When and How the Panama Canal was Constructed

Important Points

The Panama Canal stretches 50 miles across the Isthmus of Panama.
The United States finished construction on the canal in 1914.
A series of locking gates raise and lower ships across the Isthmus of Panama in order to deliver them to either the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.

Historical context of the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal, a waterway that links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, is situated in the Central American nation of Panama. Before it was built, seafarers would circumnavigate Cape Horn, which is located in the bottom of South America, in order to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Fortunately, this voyage was shortened by 2,000–8,000 miles upon the completion of the Panama Canal, depending on where a vessel left from.

When Was the Panama Canal Constructed?

It may surprise you to learn that France was the first nation to try building the Panama Canal. France’s Count Ferdinand de Lesseps started work on the enormous project in 1880. The Suez Canal, which linked the Mediterranean and Red Seas, was built by De Lesseps in the past. Regretfully, sickness and landslides prevented the French from finishing the canal. De Lesseps gave up on the project by 1888, and France stopped providing financing for it.

President Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the United States’ takeover of the Panama Canal operations in 1902. Nonetheless, the region, which included the Panama isthmus, was governed by Colombia. The United States was not permitted to construct in the area by Colombia. As a result, the United States used its potent military to back Panama in its struggle for independence from Colombia. The United States took complete control of the Panama Canal at the close of 1903.

John Stevens took over as the project’s main engineer in July 1905. In order to reduce the frequency of landslides, Stevens suggested to President Roosevelt that the project be constructed as a lock canal. Furthermore, when chief sanitary officer Dr. William Gorgas removed sizable populations of mosquitoes that posed a risk to employees, the spread of illness was curbed.

Following Stevens’ resignation in 1907, Lieutenant Colonel George Washington Goethals was appointed by Roosevelt as the new chief engineer. President Woodrow Wilson oversaw the Panama Canal’s opening seven years later. The United States had to pay between $350 and $375 million for the building of the canal by the time it opened on August 15, 1914. The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans today, covering an amazing 50 miles.

How Does the Panama Canal Operate?

The Atlantic and Pacific oceans are connected via the Panama Canal. But in this area, the Pacific Ocean is located at a higher sea level than the Atlantic. Thus, moving ships over the isthmus while elevating them to a higher sea level is the aim of the Panama Canal.

In what way does the Panama Canal raise ships above the level of the Atlantic? There are multiple locking gates along the canal. A ship is held in place as water fills a chamber when it enters the first lock. The ship is then raised by the water to the second lock’s height. The same procedure is followed when the ship enters the second lock. The ship is raised by the locking gates until it is level with Gatun Lake, which is the entrance to the Pacific Ocean.

Ships heading from the Pacific to the Atlantic, on the other hand, have to pass through the locking gates backwards. When a ship enters a water-filled lock, it is lowered to the level of the next lock. This procedure is carried out up until the ship enters the Atlantic Ocean.

Statistics for the Panama Canal

It may surprise you to learn that 14,000 or so ships pass through the Panama Canal’s gates annually. With 46 locking gates that allow numerous ships to pass through at once, the canal is enormous. Each gate is seven feet deep and 65 feet wide, with different heights depending on the location. It takes around eight to ten hours to traverse the Panamanian Isthmus. Lastly, the Panama Canal requires ships to pay a toll in order to pass, bringing in billions of dollars for the nation every year.