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7 Ancient Wonders of the World
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7 Modern Wonders of the World

Panama Canal
What makes the Panama Canal remarkable is its self sufficiency. The dam at Gatun, is able to generate the electricity to run all the motors which operate the canal as well as the locomotives in charge of towing the ships through the canal. No force is required to adjust the water level between the locks except gravity.
Isthmus of Panama
Modern Wonders of the World
Industrial Wonders of the World
Dated Started: 1/01/1880
Date Finished: 1/07/1914
Locks: 3 sets of locks
Navigation: Panama Canal Authority
 
7 Modern Wonders of the World
Panama Canal [1]

 

The Panama Canal is a ship canal which joins the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific ocean. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, it had an enormous impact on shipping between the two oceans, replacing the long and treacherous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the canal travels 9,500 km (6,000 mi), well under half the 22,500 km (14,000 mi) route around Cape Horn.[1] Although the concept of a canal near Panama dates back to the early 16th century, the first attempt to construct a canal began in 1880 under French leadership. After this attempt failed and 21,900 workers died, the project of building a canal was attempted and completed by the United States in the early 1900s, with the canal opening in 1914. The building of the 77 km (48 mi) canal was plagued by problems, including disease (particularly malaria and yellow fever) and landslides. By the time the canal was completed, a total of 27,500 workmen are estimated to have died in the French and American efforts.

Since opening, the canal has been enormously successful, and continues to be a key conduit for international maritime trade. The canal can accommodate vessels from small private yachts up to large commercial vessels. The maximum size of vessel that can use the canal is known as Panamax; an increasing number of modern ships exceed this limit, and are known as post-Panamax or super-Panamax vessels. A typical passage through the canal by a cargo ship takes approximately 8–10 hours. In fiscal year 2008, 14,702 vessels passed through the waterway with a total 309.6 million Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons.

While the Pacific Ocean is west of the isthmus and the Atlantic to the east, the journey through the canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic is one from southeast to northwest. This is a result of the isthmus's "curving back on itself" in the region of the canal. The Bridge of the Americas at the Pacific end is about a third of a degree of longitude east of the end near Colon on the Atlantic.


History of the Panama Canal

Early efforts
The earliest mention of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama dates back to 1534 when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain ordered a survey for a route through Panama that would ease the voyage for ships traveling to and from Spain and Peru, as well as give the Spanish a tactical military edge over the Portuguese. During his expedition of 1788–1793, Alessandro Malaspina demonstrated the feasibility of a canal and outlined plans for its construction.

Given the strategic situation of Panama and its narrow isthmus separating two great oceans, other forms of trade links were attempted over the years. The ill-fated Darien scheme was an attempt launched by the Kingdom of Scotland in 1698 to set up an overland trade route, but was defeated by the generally inhospitable conditions, and abandoned two years later in 1700. Finally, the Panama Railway was built across the isthmus, opening in 1855. This overland link became a vital piece of infrastructure, greatly facilitating trade and largely determining the later canal route.


Construction work on the Gaillard Cut is shown in this photograph from 1907An all-water route between the oceans was still seen as the ideal solution, and the idea of a canal was enhanced by the success of the Suez Canal. The French, under Ferdinand de Lesseps, began construction on a sea-level canal (i.e., without locks) through what was then Colombia's province of Panama, on January 1, 1880. The French began work in a rush with insufficient prior study of the geology and hydrology of the region. In addition, disease, particularly malaria and yellow fever, sickened and killed vast numbers of employees, ranging from laborers to top directors of the French company. Public health measures were ineffective because the role of the mosquito as a disease vector was then unknown. These conditions made it impossible to maintain an experienced work force as fearful technical employees quickly returned to France. Even the hospitals contributed to the problem, unwittingly providing breeding places for mosquitoes inside the unscreened wards. Actual conditions were hushed-up in France to avoid recruitment problems. In 1893, after a great deal of work, the French scheme was abandoned due to disease and the sheer difficulty of building a sea-level canal, as well as lack of French field experience, such as downpours causing steel equipment to rust. The high toll from disease was one of the major factors in the failure; as many as 22,000 workers were estimated to have died during the main period of French construction (1881–1889).

According to Stephen Kinzer's 2006 book Overthrow, in 1898 the chief of the French Canal Syndicate (a group that owned large swathes of land across Panama), Philippe Bunau-Varilla, hired William Nelson Cromwell (of the US law firm Sullivan & Cromwell) to lobby the US Congress to build a canal across Panama, and not across Nicaragua.


Later efforts
In 1902, Cromwell noticed a 10-cent Nicaraguan postal stamp, produced by the United States’ American Bank Note Company, which erroneously depicted a fuming Momotombo volcano. Momotombo was nearly dormant and stands more than 160 km (100 mi) from the proposed Nicaraguan canal path; yet the stamp had taken advantage of a particularly volcanic year in the Caribbean. Cromwell planted a story in the New York Sun reporting that the Momotombo volcano had erupted and caused a series of seismic shocks. Thereafter he sent leaflets with the above stamps pasted on them to all U.S. Senators as witness to the volcanic activity in Nicaragua. On June 19, 1902, three days after senators received the stamps, they voted for the Panama route for the canal. For his lobbying efforts, Cromwell received the sum of $800,000.

On January 22, 1903, the Hay-Herran Treaty was signed by United States Secretary of State John M. Hay and Dr. Tomás Herrán of Colombia. It would have granted the United States a 99-year lease from Colombia on the land proposed for the canal. It was ratified by the United States Senate on March 14, 1903, but the Senate of Colombia did not ratify the treaty. Philippe Bunau-Varilla, chief engineer of the French canal company, told Roosevelt and Hay of a possible revolt and hoped that the U.S. would support it with troops and money. President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt changed tactics, promising support for Panama's intermittent separatist movement. On November 2, 1903 U.S. warships blocked sealanes for Colombian troops from coming to put down the revolt, also, dense jungles blocked land routes. Panama achieved independence on November 3, 1903 when the United States sent naval forces to encourage Colombia's surrender of the region. The United States quickly recognized them November 6. Also in November 1903, Phillipe Bunau-Varilla, Panama's ambassador to the United States, signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty, granting rights to the United States to build and indefinitely administer the Panama Canal. Although Bunau-Varilla was serving as Panama's ambassador, he was a French citizen and was not authorized to sign treaties on behalf of Panama without Panamanian review.[citation needed] This treaty became a contentious diplomatic issue between the two countries, culminating in riots in which 21 Panamanians and 4 U.S. soldiers were killed on Martyr's Day, January 9, 1964. The issues were resolved with the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties in 1977, which returned the former Canal Zone territories to Panama.

The United States, under President Theodore Roosevelt (with John Frank Stevens as Chief Engineer from 1905–1907), bought out the French equipment and excavations for US$40 million and began work on May 4, 1904. The United States paid Colombia $25,000,000 in 1921, seven years after completion of the canal, for redress of President Roosevelt's role in the creation of Panama, and Colombia recognized Panama under the terms of the Thomson-Urrutia Treaty.

Chief Engineer (1905–1907), John Frank Stevens' primary achievement in Panama was in building the infrastructure necessary to complete the canal. He rebuilt the Panama Railway and devised a system for disposing of soil from the excavations by rail. He also built proper housing for canal workers and oversaw extensive sanitation and mosquito-control programmes that eliminated yellow fever and other diseases from the Isthmus. Stevens argued the case against a sea level canal like the French had tried to build. He convinced Theodore Roosevelt of the necessity of a canal built with dams and locks.

A significant investment was made in eliminating disease from the area, particularly yellow fever and malaria, the causes of which had originally been theorized by Cuban physician/scientist Dr. Carlos Finlay in 1881 who had identified the mosquito as the vector that causes the disease. Finlay's theory and investigative work had recently been confirmed by Dr. Walter Reed while in Cuba with U.S. Army motivation during the Spanish-American War (see Health measures during the construction of the Panama Canal). With the diseases under control, and after significant work on preparing the infrastructure, construction of an elevated canal with locks began in earnest and was finally possible. The Americans also gradually replaced the old French equipment with machinery designed for a larger scale of work (such as the giant hydraulic crushers supplied by the Joshua Hendy Iron Works), to quicken the pace of construction. President Roosevelt had the former French machinery minted into medals for all workers who spent at least two years on the construction to commemorate their contribution to the building of the canal. These medals featured Roosevelt's likeness on the front, the name of the recipient on one side, and the worker's years of service, as well as a picture of the Culebra Cut on the back.

In 1907 Roosevelt appointed George Washington Goethals as Chief Engineer of the Panama Canal. The building of the canal was completed in 1914, two years ahead of the target date of June 1, 1916. The canal was formally opened on August 15, 1914 with the passage of the cargo ship Ancon. Coincidentally, this was also the same month that fighting in World War I (the Great War) began in Europe. The advances in hygiene resulted in a relatively low death toll during the American construction; still, 5,609 workers died during this period (1904–1914). This brought the total death toll for the construction of the canal to around 27,500.

By the 1930s it was seen that water supply would be an issue for the canal; this prompted the building of the Madden Dam across the Chagres River above Gatun Lake. The dam, completed in 1935, created Madden Lake (later Alajuela Lake), which acts as additional water storage for the canal. In 1939, construction began on a further major improvement: a new set of locks for the canal, large enough to carry the larger warships which the United States was building at the time and had planned to continue building. The work proceeded for several years, and significant excavation was carried out on the new approach channels, but the project was canceled after World War II.


After the war, U.S. control of the canal and the Canal Zone surrounding it became contentious as relations between Panama and the U.S. became increasingly tense. Many Panamanians felt that the canal zone rightfully belonged to Panama; student protests were met by the fencing in of the zone and an increased military presence. Negotiations toward a new settlement began in 1974, and resulted in the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. Signed by President of the United States Jimmy Carter and Omar Torrijos of Panama on September 7, 1977, this mobilized the process of granting the Panamanians free control of the Canal so long as Panama signed a treaty guaranteeing the permanent neutrality of the Canal. The treaty led to full Panamanian control effective at noon on December 31, 1999, and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) assumed command of the waterway.

Before this handover, the government of Panama held an international bid to negotiate a 25-year contract for operation of the container shipping ports located at the Canal’s Atlantic and Pacific outlets. The contract was not affiliated with the ACP or Panama Canal operations, was won by the firm Hutchison Whampoa, a Hong Kong-based shipping concern whose owner is Li Ka Shing.[2]

 

 

I worked on a cruise ship that went through the Panama Canal and I got to follow the ship in a car and record its journey.

 

jasepotter
August 17, 2006

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References
 
1. Flickr-Panama Canal- Creative Commons Attribution License-retrieved 7/20/2009
2. Wikipedia- Panama Canal-retrieved 7/20/2009 
 
 
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