The Panama Canal

Posted on: 09.13.2014 in interact


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.


  1. s618001

    It’s such a wonderful feature of Panama and to the world

  2. MP23

    I think that the Panama Canal money should go towards building sewers so that the people won’t get sick as often.

  3. Nicole Ancil.

    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.

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