Building the Panama Canal


Regarding engineering and facilitating international trade, the Panama Canal is unparalleled. Initiated in the 1880s under French direction, construction was delayed by plague and economic hardship. In 1904 the United States seized control and, although facing similar challenges, finished the canal by 1914.

When completed, the canal drastically lowered travel times and costs for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In order to build it, massive amounts of earth had to be moved, locks built to accommodate the change in elevation, and preventative measures against infectious diseases like malaria and yellow fever put in place.

In 1977, the Torrijos-Carter Treaties were signed, outlining the U.S.’s gradual handover of authority of the Panama Canal Zone to the Panamanian government. On December 31, 1999, the canal was formally transferred to Panamanian control. As an example of how human ingenuity can bridge geographical gaps, the canal is still vital to international trade today.

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