Panama Canal

World Civilization II Paper


Panama Canal


Guayaquil - Ecuador



1. Introduction

2. History

3. Interest enforced

4. USA participation

5. Construction & Functioning

6. Interesting facts

7. Problems

8. Future of the Panama Canal

9. Conclusion

1. - Introduction

“The opening of the waterway to world commerce on August 15, 1914, represented the realization of a heroic dream of over 400 years. The 50 miles across the isthmus was one of the hardest architectures won by humans to nature.”[1]

This important construction was made possible by the work of over 80000 people and more than 30000 of them died building it.

More than $639’000.000 were spent of US and French money in order to build it.

It took 34 years to build it from 1880 to 1914 to the year that it was opened.

2. - History
The interest for establishing a route from the Atlantic to the Pacific began with the Central American explorers at the beginning of the XVI century. Hernan Cortez, conqueror of Mexico, suggested to build a canal through the isthmus of Tehuantepec, other explorers preferred routes through Nicaragua, or the gulf of Darien. The first project to build a canal trough the Isthmus of Panama was initiated by Carlos I, king o Spain, who ordered a study of the geography of the isthmus in 1523. A project was elaborated to create a canal in 1529, but it was not shown to the king. In 1534 a Spanish officer suggested a route for the canal very close to its actual location. Other projects were suggested but none of them started.

3. - Interest enforced
The Spanish government finally gave up its efforts to build the canal, but in the beginning of the XIX century the books of the German scientist Alexander Van Humboldt revived the interest for the project an in 1819 the Spanish government authorized the construction of a canal and the creation of a company to build it. However, this effort was useless, since the rebellion of the colonies soon ended any influence of Spain over the area. The republics of Central America attempted to search for groups in the United States and in Europe to build the canal, and it converted into an issue of continuous arguing in the congress of the United States. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 and the avalanche of amateur miners stimulated the interest of the United States for building the canal; as a result the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was created. A variety of studies made between 1850 and 1875 indicated that there were only two practical routes: one through Panama, and the other through Nicaragua. In 1876 an international company was organized; two years later it was granted a concession by the Colombian government for the construction of the canal through the isthmus.

4. - United States Participation
The transnational company failed and in 1880 a French company made the attempt organized by Ferdinand Marie Lesseps, engineer of the Suez Canal, but it broke on 1889. However the interest of the United States in an Atlantic-Pacific canal persisted. In 1889 the congress of the United States created a commission to examine the possibilities of a Central American canal and to suggest a route. The commission first decided for the Nicaraguan route, but it changed its opinion when the Lesseps company, restructured, offered its services to the United States for a price of 40 million dollars in 1902. The American government negotiated with the Colombian government to acquire a terrain of 9,5 km wide through the isthmus, but the Colombian senate refused to ratify that resolution; However, in 1903 Panama separated from Colombia and that same year the United States and the new state of Panama signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty, by which the United States guaranteed the independence of Panama and secured a perpetual rent over the 16 km canal; Panama would be compensated by an initial payment of 10 million dollars and an annuity of 250000 dollars, starting from 1913. Later, the figure was raised.[2]

5. - Construction & functioning.
In 1905, the commission chose to build a canal with dams instead of building it at the sea level they rejected to do this as the French wanted to do it; this project was approved by the congress of the United States the following year. The president Theodore Roosevelt put the army engineers