The Panama Canal at 100

August 13, 2014 Jason Allen

Considered one of the hugest and most complicated engineering projects in the entire history of mankind, the Panama Canal turns 100 tomorrow. I think I feel a commemorative G Adventures History Lesson coming on!

The Panama Canal.

Turning 100. The Panama Canal. Photo by C Man.

In 1534, the Holy Roman Emperor, King Charles V of Spain ordered a survey to be carried out on the land we now know as Panama. Spanish fortunes were being made on ships that were travelling between Spain and Peru, and an overseas solution was sought to reduce the amount of time shipments were taking sailing around treacherous Cape Horn at the foot of the continent. Though it wasn’t until the 1870’s when colonial superpower France became the first state to attempt to construct the manmade shipping river. However, plans didn’t survive long – over the following decade, so many people died during construction due to accidents and disease that the company that oversaw the building of the canal went bankrupt by 1889.

Finally in 1904, the United States under the leadership of President Teddy Roosevelt purchased the land and the equipment to finish digging the canal. (One might say it was Roosevelt himself who inspired the world’s favourite palindrome – “A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!”) After completion, the United States would continue to own the land bordering the canal until 1977 when it was awarded back to Panama.

Crowds lined up to marvel at the panama canal

Crowds lined up to marvel at this feat of engineering. Photo by M Pagola.

And so on August 14, 1914, the Panama Canal opened, stretching 80km (50 miles) from Panama City on the Pacific side to Colón on the Atlantic. It is widely seen as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, and has played a massive role in shaping the economies of several countries (and American states) along the Pacific coast. It remains a key conduit for international trade, with nearly 15,000 ships passing through it yearly, up from 1,000 when it first opened. It should also be noted that each time a ship passes through the canal, a mind-blowing 52 million gallons of fresh water are released into the ocean. Whoa.

The Panama Canal has had such an influence on modern shipping practices that ships worldwide are constructed with the canal’s maximum allowable dimensions in mind. (An additional, wider canal is currently being constructed to open in 2015 that will allow for greater dimensions than are currently permitted.)

Locks at the Panama Canal

Locks at the Panama Canal. Photo by L Gateley.

Getting There

G Adventures runs a number of departures to Panama encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. Panama is waiting for you. So what are you waiting for? Check out our small group trips here.

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