When Was the Panama Canal Built?
The construction of the
Panama Canal is where the expression “Another Day, Another Dollar”
comes from, as the workers were rumored to be paid a dollar a day for their
labor. France began work on the canal in 1881, but stopped because of
engineering problems and a high worker mortality rate. The United
States took over the project in 1904 and opened the canal on August 15,
1914. It had taken ten years to build. At first much delay was caused by
uncertainty over the type of canal that should be built. Some experts
contemplated a high-level canal with locks at either end, while others
suggested a canal at sea level. After two years the high level plan was
It was decided that the alternative system would threaten the land on either side of the canal with flooding and also put ships at risk in stormy weather. The building of the Panama Canal, one of the great engineering feats in the world, was masterminded by John F. Stevens. The canal zone was formally acquired by the United States from Panama in 1904 for 10 million dollars plus an annual payment of 250,000 dollars. The United States was to be responsible for the construction of the canal and for its perpetual maintenance, sanitation, operation and defence. Since that date the treaty has been amended several times.
Since 1904 the canal, which is just over 40 miles long, has cost the United States well over 6,000 million dollars. But it has shortened the distance for ships traveling between that country’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts by 8,000 miles. Ships going from Europe to Australia make a saving of nearly 2,000 miles. Among the canal’s many engineering marvels, its great locks attract particular attention. They are deep enough to take vessels drawing forty feet of water and have a length of 1,000 feet. Some of the “leaves” of the lock weigh as much as 730 tons and are more than 80 feet high.
One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut greatly reduced the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan and the even less popular route through the Arctic Archipelago and the Bering Strait.
Colombia, France, and later the United States controlled the territory surrounding the canal during construction. The US continued to control the canal and surrounding Panama Canal Zone until the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties provided for handover to Panama. After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, in 1999, the canal was taken over by the Panamanian government. It is now managed and operated by the government-owned Panama Canal Authority.
Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in 1914, when the canal opened, to 14,702 vessels in 2008, for a total of 333.7 million Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons. By 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through the canal. It takes 11.38 hours to pass through the Panama Canal. The American Society of Civil Engineers has ranked the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world.