The Panama Canal is world famous for the unprecedented water travel it enables between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as well as the magnitude of engineering innovation that facilitated its construction. The history of the Panama Canal dates back hundreds of years before construction ever began, with several failed attempts causing setbacks. Before the first ship sailed from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the canal in 1914, the voyage to the other side required circumventing South America, a feat in itself adding thousands of miles and many days to ship voyages.
Some of the major developments leading to the present day Panama Canal, a vital catalyst for world trade, are outlined as follows:
-1534: Charles I of Spain leads the first survey of the area to evaluate the potential construction of a canal connecting the two oceans, with surveyors reporting that the project is unfeasible. Spain eventually discards interest in constructing the canal.
-1869: United States President Ulysses S. Grant commands surveys in Mexico and Panama, which at the time was a Colombian province.
-1880: After numerous failed attempts by others, the French Canal Company begins construction on the canal in hopes of creating a waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Challenges such as a difficult terrain, laborers contraction of deadly tropical diseases, a faulty design and a shortage of labor quickly arise. Within a couple of years, workers are dying almost every day.
-1889: French work on the canal halts as the French Canal Company disbands.
-1903: The United States, led by President Theodore Roosevelt, supports Panama in its revolt to gain independence from Colombia. Only fifteen days after Panama wins its independence, a treaty is signed between Panama and the United States outlining specifics of the canal plan and giving the United States control over the ten mile wide canal zone.
-1904: Construction begins on the Panama Canal, employing thousands of laborers and costing around 0 million.
-1914: The first ship travels through the waterway after ten years of construction.
-1977: U.S. President Jimmy Carter signs treaty agreeing to hand over control of the canal to the Panamanians, with both sides vowing that the canal will remain neutral, safe and available to all ships.
-1999: The United States formally relinquishes complete control of the canal and its operations to Panama on December 31st.
Today, the Panama Canal is a crucial element of worldwide commerce. An expansion of the canal approved by Panamanians in 2006 is expected to begin in 2008 and cost in the neighborhood of .2 billion.