Why Build in Panama? “The voyage (to California) by way of Cape Horn will occupy on an average, five or six months, while by the Isthmus route, the trip is accomplished in as many weeks!” -- Gregory’s Guide for California Travelers via the (land route) Isthmus of Panama, 1850
Proponents of a Panama canal route emphasized the threat of active volcanoes and earthquakes in Nicaragua, neither of which plagued Panama.
The authors of this Scientific American article concluded that construction would be feasible in both Nicaragua and Panama. A Nicaraguan canal would be closer to the United States but four times longer than one in Panama.
Why Build in Panama? “While not possessing any single feature better than that of some other route . . . the Panama route has many less bad features than any of the others.” — George S. Morison, engineer and Isthmian Canal Commission member, 1903
How Did Panama Become Independent? • In 1903, French canal builders agreed to sell their stake in the bankrupt Panama venture to the United States for $40 million. • Colombia, because of its sovereignty over Panama, expected part of the payment, but felt the price was too low. • Unwilling to have the sale jeopardized and recognizing Panama’s desire for independence, the United States quietly encouraged Panama to rebel. • The ensuing three-day-long revolution, under the watchful eye of two U.S. gunboats, created the Republic of Panama. • A few days later, the United States and Panama signed a treaty to build the canal.
How Did the Americans Control the Mosquitoes? • Thousands of sanitary workers scoured the Canal Zone looking for water sources where mosquitoes could breed. • By spraying a thin film of oil on the water’s surface, they smothered any mosquito larvae that might be living there. • Using techniques that William Gorgas developed in Havana where he battled yellow fever after the Spanish-American War, workers fumigated buildings, removed standing water, installed door and window screens, and cut grass.
From the Atlantic Ocean the Panama Canal runs south for ten miles (17 km) and then eastward to the Pacific Ocean. • The total soil excavated from the canal would build a pyramid 4,200 feet (1,280 meters) high. • During the construction engineers working on the project earned from $225 to $600 per month. Physicians earned from $150 to $300. • The project consumed as much as twelve million pounds of dynamite per year. • Gatun Lake, the highest part of the canal, is about 85 feet (26 meters) above sea level.
The Commissary Department provided food for the entire work force and baked as many as six million loaves of bread, 650,000 rolls, and 114,000 pounds of cake per year. • It took nine hours and forty minutes for the passage of the first ship through the canal. The average is 8-10 hours. • When the canal opened tolls were set at $1.20 per ton for freight and $1.50 per ton for passengers. A freighter carrying a cargo of 4,500 tons paid a toll of $5,400. • When the Panama Canal opened to traffic, the United States had spent $352 million.