On This Day

Panama Canal, August 15 1914
Associated Press

On This Day: Panama Canal Opens

August 15, 2008 11:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Aug. 15, 1914, the SS Ancon passed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in a record nine hours, officially opening the Panama Canal.

30-Second Summary

At 7:00 a.m., the SS Ancon left Cristobal, Panama, on the country’s Atlantic coast, reaching Balboa, Panama, on the Pacific, at 4:00 p.m. Her nine-hour journey was the first commercial trip through the 50-mile canal.

The passage realized a centuries-long desire for a shortcut through the Isthmus of Panama. The Canal cut 8,000 nautical miles off a trip from New York to San Francisco, which would otherwise require voyaging around the southern tip of South America.

The canal was the largest endeavor to date undertaken by the U.S. government.

Construction began in 1904, after the United States paid $10 million to Panama for land around the planned waterway. America had already paid $40 million to the ill-fated French Canal Company, which started construction in 1880 but ran over budget. Most of the French work was unusable because the American planners favored a lock-canal, not a sea-level canal.

By its end, the project claimed an estimated 25,000 lives, mostly through diseases such as yellow fever and malaria contracted before effective treatment was developed.

“The amount of earth removed was equal to a building nineteen miles high with a base the size of a city block.” Each lock, if stood upright, would be taller than the Eiffel Tower.

The United States owned the Panama Canal until 1979, when control passed to a joint agency of the United States and the Republic of Panama. Complete control passed to Panama at noon on December 31, 1999.

Headline Link: ‘The Panama Canal Officially Opens

Background: ‘Troubled Passageway’

Later Developments: U.S. cedes control to Panama

Related Topic: ‘Noriega on Ice’


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