A full century after the United States completed construction on the Panama Canal, the 45-year project remains one of the greatest engineering feats and international trade successes of all time.
Prior to its opening in 1914, in order to reach the Atlantic Ocean from the Pacific, and vice versa, ships had no choice but to take a risky, expensive and time-consuming trek around the southern tip of South America. The 48-mile lock system across the Isthmus of Panama, however, provided a shortcut through North and South America, and 7,000 to 15,000 ships a year have passed through since.
The Panama Canal proved to be essential throughout the 20th Century, with much of the world depending on it to ship and receive goods. The United States was a prime beneficiary of the route, and heavily relied on it for transporting supplies and troops for the Korean War, and later Vietnam.
The Panama Canal’s successes over the past 100 years, however, don’t entirely represent its construction history. Soon after France led the project’s launch in 1881 and right up through its decade-long run and completion by the United States, the teams faced monumental obstacles and delays. The project was plagued with ever-changing leadership and mismanagement, complex engineering issues, and slow excavation — all exacerbated by widespread disease and death of immigrant workers. But perseverance, technology, and sweat from a multi-cultural workforce saw the United States emerge as a powerful, innovative world leader.
Now, as the Panama Canal celebrates its birthday, it’s struggling to finish up a project to modernize. Because 37 percent of the world’s ships are simply too large to fit through the canal, construction began in 2007 to widen it and add locks. Though the amendments aren’t taking quite as long this time around, there have been delays and financial disputes. And as the Panama Canal adapts to the 21st Century, ports in the Western United States are also doing what they can to stay relevant on the global stage, demonstrating the importance of logistical routes such as the Panama Canal, and the effects that changes on them can have internationally.
For more facts on the Republic of Panama, take the Panama quiz below.
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Learn more about Central America with this quiz about the Southernmost nation – Panama.
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Christopher Columbus was the first European to explore Panama.
Rodrigo de Bastidas was the first European in 1501.
False. Rodrigo de Bastidas was the first European in 1501.
The size of Panama is closest to the size of South Carolina.
Panama is slightly smaller than South Carolina with a total mass of 78,200 sq km (30,193.18 sq. miles).
Portugal colonized Panama in 1509.
Spain colonized Panama in 1509 in hopes of creating a nation like modern-day Mexico.
Panama was called, “Tierra Firma” by the Spanish.
After seceding from Spain, Panama became the Republic of Panama.
Panama joined the Republic of Gran Colombia, a union of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
The Republic of Panama was established in 1903.
True, but Panama remained a territory of Colombia after the union dissolved in 1830. It wasn’t until 1903 that the nation became The Republic of Panama.
The Panama Canal was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.
The U.S. helped Panama build the Canal and by 1999 the States turned over the Canal to Panamanians completely. The Republic of Panama hopes to finish the expansion of the Canal in late 2015. The expansion project will include widening and deepening the current navigational channels.
The official currency of Panama is the peso.
Panama’s official currency is the balboa, a dollarized (due to their close past connection with the U.S.) form of money named after explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa.
The Republic of Panama’s economy is heavily based in the service industry and private industries related to the canal.
Panama has many people working in the service industry and private industries related to the canal and commerce. However, there are also many people working in the tourism and banking industries.
The Panama hat originated in Panama.
The Panama hat originated in Ecuador. The original hats were made from Toquilla straw plant leaves and were shipped to Panama to be exported to Europe, Asia and other nations. At times, products were named by their site of international sale rather than their domestic origin.
It’s such a wonderful feature of Panama and to the world
I think that the Panama Canal money should go towards building sewers so that the people won’t get sick as often.
I think that when Panama Canal is done most of the money should go to the poor and the people who don’t have running water, electricity, and barley sny food because most of the food eeds to be refriduated and without electricity so most of the money should go to the poor and the rest should go to the government.