7 Fascinating Facts About the Panama Canal

1. The idea for a canal across Panama dates back to the 16th century.

In 1534, the Holy Roman emperor ordered a survey to determine if a waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans could be built. The surveyors decided that construction of a ship canal was impossible.

2. The men behind the Suez Canal and Eiffel Tower were convicted in connection with failed effort to build a canal.

In 1881, a French company began digging a canal across Panama. The attempt to build a canal failed. The company executives were indicted on fraud and mismanagement charges.

3. America originally wanted to build a canal in Nicaragua, not Panama.

The United States wanted a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific for economic and military reasons. They considered Nicaragua a better location than Panama. In the late 1890s a French engineer convinced American lawmakers that Nicaragua had dangerous volcanoes, making Panama the safer choice.

During this period Panama was part of Colombia, which refused to ratify an agreement allowing the United States to build a canal. The people of Panama revolted against Colombia and declared independence. The United States then negotiated a deal with Panama’s provisional government to construct a canal.

4. More than 25,000 workers died during the canal’s construction.

The canal builders had to overcome many obstacles, including rough terrain, hot, humid weather, heavy rainfall, and tropical diseases.

Mosquitoes as disease carriers were responsible for many deaths among the workers. Medical experts were able to reduce the number of deaths among canal workers by introducing sanitation measures such as draining areas with standing water, removing possible insect breeding grounds and installing window screens in buildings.

5. Between 13,000 and 14,000 ships use the canal every year.

American ships use the canal the most, followed by those from China, Chile, Japan, Colombia and South Korea. Every vessel that travels the canal must pay a toll.

On average, it takes a ship 8 to 10 hours to pass through the canal. While moving through it, a system of locks raises each ship 85 feet above sea level.

6. The United States transferred control of the canal to Panama in 1999.

In the years after the canal opened, tensions increased between America and Panama over control of the Canal Zone. In 1977, the United States and Panama signed treaties that transferred control of the canal to Panama in 1999 . The United States maintained the right to use military force to defend the waterway against any threat to its neutrality.

7. The canal was recently expanded to handle today’s megaships.

In 2016, a canal expansion project was completed to enable the canal to handle ships nearly three times larger than before. The expansion project also includes a new set of locks and the widening and deepening of existing navigational channels.

Source: 7 Fascinating Facts About the Panama Canal
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