A Brief Look a the Panama Canal

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From a distance, the Panama Canal seems like an imperialist relic, a historical leftover from a nearly forgotten chapter of US history. Up close, however, it is apparent that the Panama Canal is one of the world’s great waterways, the highly efficient economic engine for a rather prosperous Latin American country. The creation of the Panama Canal was an unprecedented feat of engineering, the most costly single effort ever before mounted anywhere on earth. It affected the lives of tens of thousands of people at every level of society and of virtually every race and nationality. It marked a score of advances in engineering, government planning, and labor relations. The American effort to build the Panama Canal began in 1904. The first ship sailed through the canal in 1914, ten years and $326 million later. The canal would not be fully open to commercial traffic for another six years. Landslides shut it down for most of 1915 and 1916, and then briefly in 1917 and 1920. Strikes hit the canal in 1916 and 1917. World War I practically closed it to commercial traffic, and work continued on clearing dangerous hills, fixing locks, and finishing all the ancillary construction required by the canal. The Panama Canal finally opened to civilian traffic on July 20, 1920, after an additional six years and $53 million, costing twice its initial estimate, after adjusting for inflation.

Early efforts to construct the canal were undertaken by the French. The same French entrepreneurs who had
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