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The problem was the great 12,000 mile distance to go around South America to get to from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean or vice versa. The solution was to make canal to cut the distance down significantly. Vasco Nunez de Balboa discovered the Pacific coast in the 1513. Many famous people including Benjamin Franklin suggested that a route could be made through Panama to shorten the path. However, others people disagreed that it could be done in Panama. German explorer Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt believed that Panama was too mountainous and the wrong place to build the canal.

“U.S. Army Col. Charles Biddle concluded after four days of hiking in the jungle that the impracticality of building a canal in Panama ought to be clear to anyone.” (Kiger)

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Designing, constructing, and implementing the Panama Canal is one of the largest macro-engineering projects in recorded history. It took a two nations and the workforce of many other nations to complete. Columbia lost a large part of its land and the Republic of Panama was created for the sole purpose of building the Canal.

“Apart from wars, it represented the largest, most costly single effort ever before mounted anywhere on earth.” (McCullough 11) Not only were there advances in technology, but also entire technologies were created for this macro-engineering project. “In the history of finance capitalism, in the history of medicine, it was an event of signal consequence.” It marked a score of advances in engineering, government planning, labor relations.” (McCullough 12)

Even thought it took numerous people to design and finish the Panama Canal’s original creator was the entrepreneur Vicomte Ferdinand De Lesseps. Ideas varied on how to complete the task.

Vicomte Ferdinand De Lesseps was the first in charge of the Panama Canal. De Lesseps promoted the idea of the French building the canal. He believed that he would return pride to France by completing this project. He successfully completed the Suez Canal in Egypt. He planned to repeat his success in Panama using a sea level canal. He sold stock and investors put up about 240 million dollars. Three times the amount of what the Suez Canal cost. The completion of the Canal was set at twelve years. 20,000 workers were working on the canal by 1883.

The French had a string of failures. They failed because the technology and medical technologies didn’t exist at this point of time. De Lesseps was more a man of personality then an engineer, for he had no technical training. The French piled dirt up next to the spots they were digging. This cause landslides and they had to dig the same spots over. About 200 people were dieing a month from yellow fever. (Kiger) The French had no idea what was causing this. Next to the hospital they had plants in basins filled with water to stop umbrella ants from eating them. Unbeknownst to the French this was the perfect breeding ground. These basins helped mosquitoes breed in great numbers that carried yellow fever.

The money was squandered and embezzled from the project. The French then decide that maybe switching to a lock canal might be better in order to try to comfort investors. De Lesseps realizes that he is out of his league and asks Eiffel for help. It is too late for the French to succeed in completing the canal. De Lesseps’s Canal Company goes out of business and simply run out of funds to continue work. The French pull out of Panama after 10 years, but not until 287 million dollars was spent and 20,000 people died. Many people are sent to prison over the financial fiasco. The word Panama became synonymous with the word scandal in France.

“Leon F. Czolgosz, aged twenty-eight, a Detroit resident of Polish heritage and an unemployed mill worker of anarchist sentiments, had fired a concealed .32 Iver Johnson revolver point blank into the President’s chest. McKinley doubled over and fell backward into the arms of his Secret Service escorts.” (The American President) When this happened the presidential power went to Theodore Roosevelt. With this change also brought change in American foreign policy.

Columbia could not agree with terms United States wanted to impose on the completion of the canal. Theodore Roosevelt was able to have some well to do locals have an uprising. There was not much bloodshed in this uprising, for the American Warship cruised in making it impossible for Columbia to land any troops. Panama was under the protection of the United States.

The United States started of as poorly as the French. John Wallace is put in charge, but quits after only one year. Most of the workers are rejects from the railroad in United States. Money is not spent on the necessary sanitation and pest control requirements.

John Stevens replaces John Wallace as head of the operation. Stevens successfully built the Western railroads in the mountainous areas. He immediately stops all construction and cleans up the work site. Towns with paved roads are built and sanitized. Dr. William Gorgous gets the supplies he needs to stop the mosquitoes that cause yellow fever. Everything to make the skilled white workers conditions livable is built. Many recreation and other luxury items are brought in. Mysteriously and debatably why Stevens quits. “Some say that he cracked under the pressure.” (A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama)

Roosevelt does not want anymore delays in the completion of the canal. Roosevelt becomes tired of people quitting the job so he orders Army officer Col. George W. Goethals to take over. Goethals takes over and finishes the canal.

In 1870 the enormous task of building the Panama Canal began. The first Nation to begin the digging of the canal is the French. The primary reason they want to build the canal is for commerce.

Twelve years after the French failure in 1901 the Untied States stepped in to complete the job. As the Nova Video A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama suggests that Theodore Roosevelt wanted to control both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He wanted the United States to have a powerful navy. “In 1898, with the United States and Spain on the brink of war, the Oregon — the U.S. Navy’s first true battleship — took 67 days to rush back from San Francisco to the Caribbean.” (Kiger) Roosevelt wanted to be able to move warships from one side of the American coast to the other in a much quicker manner.

The Panama Canal is forty miles long and saves eight thousand miles off the trip from The Atlantic to the Pacific. The canal goes south from the Atlantic Ocean for seven miles into the Limón Bay which is a dredged area. This area of the canal goes for eleven and one half mile until it reaches the Gatun locks. These three locks rise ships eighty five feet into Gatun Lake. From there to the Culebra Cut is twenty three miles. The cut goes for eight miles and is only five hundred feet wide. Then the Pedro Miguel single lock lowers ships thirty one feet. Next there is a one mile lake to the Miraflores locks. The two locks drop ships down a total of 54 feet. Then the final seven mile dredge to the Bay of panama.

The locks are the tallest structures in the world at the time. “The lock chambers are 1,000 feet long, 110 feet wide, and 41 feet deep.” (Encyclopedia Britannica) They are as three times as all as the Statue of liberty. The gates weigh 700 tons and the chambers have 10 ton culverts to let the water in and out. Fifteen hundred motors are used to open and close the gates. All of the electricity is generated by the from the Damn on the Chagres. Cable cars pull ships through the locks using this same power source.

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The Spanish first propose a survey of panama for canal purposes The French begin to build/dig the panama canalThe French Pull out of Panama because of financial reasonsThe U.S signs a treat giving them rights to buildThe united States starts out with failures John Wallace QuitsJohn Stevens takes over and has much success, but quits mysteriously George Goethals takes over and completes the canal

The first and most important construction is a safe and livable place for the workers of the Panama Canal. The most important part of this is the elimination of Yellow Fever. Dr. William Gorgous knows that “Stegomyia fasciata, an adult female” (McCullough 429) is the cause of yellow fever. John Wallace denies Dr. Gorgous the money to take the necessary measures to eliminate Yellow Fever. Even though the technology existed there is no money at this point to solve the problem.

When John Stevens takes charge he allocates the money to clean up the Yellow Fever problem. In A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama it is stated that swamps are drained, housing is fumigated, bush is cleared, oil is sprayed, and one hundred and twenty tons of pesticide is purchased.

The removal of the dirt is a large problem for the construction of the canal. When the canal was finished approximately 262,000,000 cubic yards of dirt and were removed. Stevens had no intention of making the canal sea level. To remove that much greater amount of dirt would be a nearly impossible task.

Thousands of large Steam shovels were worked around the clock. Stevens built a system of railroads to remove the dirt being dug by mostly by these steam shovels. This kept the steam shovels working at all times without having to wait for the soil to be removed. The tracks were often moved with the use of people and a machine developed solely for the task. The flat open train cars were emptied by the use of a large wedge powered by the locomotive engine. This allowed the freight cars to be unloaded swiftly. To build Gatun Lake the workers need to damn the Chagres. Much of the railroaded dirt was dumped in this area to damn the river. Even with this efficient system of dirt removal there was significant problem of landslides. The angle of repose was never achieved in the entire canal and there are landslides even today. These landslides buried lots of equipment and slowed progress. United States uncovered a lot of French equipment including steam shovels and tug boats.

Because of the terrain it was not always so simple to just dig with the use of steam shovels dynamite had to be used. “Construction of the canal would consume more than 61,000,000 pounds of dynamite, a greater amount of explosive energy than had been expended in all the nations wars until that time.” (McCullough 545) Dynamite was often drilled into the rocks to help excavate areas. Because of panamas climate the dynamite would often become unstable and explode prematurely.

An enormous amount of concrete was required to build the lock chambers. Over two million cubic yards of concrete was used. The walls and floors of the chambers were all concrete some areas as much as twenty three feet thick. A large concrete mixing plant was constructed. Barges had to bring the vast concrete material to the mixing plant. A circular cableway was set up on 85 foot towers. The buckets of concrete where brought to the cableway by train. The six ton buckets moved at speeds of 20 mile per hour. The forms from the concrete had to be moved upward as soon as the concrete dried. Huge cranes were needed to lift the huge thirty six foot sections. Fifty companies in the United States are contracted to build all the pieces of the locks and are pieced together upon arrival.

In 1914 the Panama Canal is complete ahead of schedule and under budget. A commission was formed to determine whether improvements need to be made. No improvements where suggested, they thought that the canal looked just fine the way it was. The electric trains that pull the ships have only been upgraded twice. A traffic control tower was also added to manage traffic.

The final total estimated cost in today’s money is 7 billion dollars to complete the canal. The United States was able to recover seventy percent of their money through the collection of tolls. McCullough states that the largest toll being “$42,077.88” coming from the Queen Elizabeth II. According to McCullough the smallest toll is “36 cents” coming from Richard Hallibuton who swam the canal. The canal wasn’t used too much at first because of World War I. After that the amount of ships steadily increased. In 1919 5 years after the completion of the canal an American Naval Armada sailed through the canal. In 1924 a British battleship squeezed through the canal followed by two American aircraft carriers. “By 1939 annual traffic exceeded seven thousand ships.” (McCullough 612) Traffic steadily increased after World War II and lights were installed to permit night travel.

In the late seventies United States gave more control to Panama over the canal. In 1977 a treaty was signed giving the canal over to panama at the end of the century. In 1999 in accordance to the treaty oversight of the canal was given to the Panamanian Government. However United States still has power to act if any threat dangers the canal.

One negative impact to the construction of the Panama Canal is the loss of human life that occurred during the construction. According to the A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama video 5609 people died during the construction. Because of the unsafe nature of the project and the geographic location this occurred. People died from landslides, Yellow Fever, unstable dynamite, heat stroke, and being crushed by equipment.

Another impact was the exploitation of labor. The large majority ninety percent of the work force was from the Caribbean and West Indies. There were separate and not equal conditions between white and black workers. Black workers had worse housing conditions and where not segregated from all white activities. They were even paid in silver when all the white workers were paid in gold. The black workers were paid 10 cents an hour, and worked ten hours a day six days a week. The double standards resulted in a lot of suffering of the less paid black laborers. About 4500 of the 5609 workers that died were black.

Works Cited

The American President 18 Oct. 2000

Britanica Encyclopedia 21 Oct. 2000

Kiger, Patrick. Discovery Channel 16 Oct. 2000

Knapp, Herbert and Mary. Red, White, and Blue Paradise. New York: Hartcourt
Brace Joanovich, 1984.

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama. Nova. 1987.

McCullough, David. The Path Between The Seas. New York: Simon and Schuster,
1977.

Panama Canal Authority 16 Oct. 2000

Panama Canal. A Home Video. 1994.

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