Little Bits of History

A Man, A Plan, A Canal – Panama

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 7, 2010

Sailing routes before and after the Panama Canal

June 7, 1914: Although the Panama Canal does not officially open until August of this year, on this date, the first ship, Alliance,  passes through the locks. The idea of a canal in Panama originated in the sixteenth century. Construction was started by the French in 1880 and completed by the Americans in 1914 after they took over the project in 1904. About 80,000 people worked on the canal. Over 30,000 of them died during construction. The American government spent $352 million on construction of the canal. The combined monies spent by the US and the French was approximately $639 million.

On September 7, 1977, a treaty was signed between Panama and the US transferring ownership and maintenance from the US to Panama. On October 1, 1979, the Panama Canal Treaty returned canal jurisdiction to Panama. The US managed, operated, maintained, and improved the Canal through 1999.

The length of the canal is 46.8 miles. The canal joins the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. A typical trip through the canal takes about nine hours. It shortens the trip by about 8,000 miles by negating the need for travel around the South American continent. It also keeps ships from having to traverse the Drake Passage and Cape Horn to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic Ocean. The average toll is around $54,000.

The canal is a booming business. In 2008, 14,702 ships passed through the canal, moving 309.6 million (PC/UMS) tons. It was once estimated that the maximum capacity of the canal was 80 million tons. The canal has now reached maximum capacity and there is difficulty with newer, larger ships fitting through the locks. At the present time, half of all ships already use the full width of the locks. It is thought by 2011, 37% of the container ships on the seas will be too large for the present canal. As a result, there is current construction of another set of locks by the Panamanian government in partnership with the US. The new locks have a proposed cost of $5.25 billion (USD) and should be completed by 2015.

“All the performances of human art, at which we look with praise or wonder, are instances of the resistless force of perseverance; it is by this that the quarry becomes a pyramid, and that distant countries are united with canals.” – Samuel Johnson

“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.” – John Paul Jones

“Each of us is carving a stone, erecting a column, or cutting a piece of stained glass in the construction of something much bigger than ourselves.” – Adrienne Clarkson

“If you take advantage of everything America has to offer, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.” – Geraldine Ferraro

Also on this day:
In 1965,
birth control was legal (in Connecticut) (for married women).
In 1494, the
Treaty of Tordesillas was signed.

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