Panama Canal Essay

This essay has a total of 1458 words and 6 pages.

Panama Canal



The Panama Canal is one of the greatest works of engineering and modern achievements of
mankind. An all-water passage through the continental divide of the Panama region had
been suggested since early Spanish colonial times of the 16th century. The reality of a
canal through the Isthmus of Panama came to be when the French began work in 1881. After
20 years of laboring on the construction of the canal the French had exhausted their
resources and capital. As the U.S. expanded across the North American continent and
continued to become a world power, a more practical way was needed to travel from Pacific
to Atlantic. The United States purchased the rights and assets from France in 1902 and
took over the task of building the canal. President Roosevelt saw the opportunity of
having an inter-oceanic canal that would provide easy access to the Atlantic and the
Pacific oceans for the U.S. merchant and naval ships. The U.S. labored for ten years and
in 1914 the canal was finished. The accomplishment of constructing the Panama Canal was a
major factor in the U.S. becoming a dominant force throughout the seas. Millions of
dollars and thousands of lives later one of the greatest endeavors of mankind was
complete.

In 1880 the French set out on their quest to construct a canal through the Isthmus of
Panama. The company estimated that they could complete a sea-level canal in eight years.
In 1881 Yellow Fever struck at an alarming rate along with Malaria. At that time the
people did not realize the connection between the diseases and the mosquitoes that carried
them. The hospitals were breeding grounds for these deadly mosquitoes. People with
medical conditions other than malaria or yellow fever would go to the hospital and then
contract the disease. When people noticed this happening they started avoiding hospitals.
By 1884 the work force of the French was at its maximum of 19,000 workers. In 1885
yellow fever was constant as many of the workers contracted it. In 1888 the French
company redirected its efforts to the lock canal system that is along the lines of the
current one constructed by the U.S. The French company was too stubborn to realize that
the sea-level canal was not working. Then in 1889 the company had no capital left and all
work on the canal ceased. In 1894 a new French company started work on the Culebra Cut
which would be very similar to the U.S. plan. This company also ran out of capital and
was forced to stop construction.

France saw the U.S. as the only country that could complete the task and offered to sell
their assets to the U.S. The Isthmian Canal Commission under the McKinley administration
surveyed the region and thought Nicaragua was the best choice for the placement of a canal
to connect both oceans. In 1901 Theodore Roosevelt took over the presidency and he saw a
canal as vital and indispensable for the U.S. and their destiny as a world power. He
firmly believed in the power of a country was in its naval force and having control of a
waterway between the two great oceans would allow the U.S. to control the seas. He signed
the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty with Britain that renounced Britain's interest in the canal
project and permitted the U.S. to build and fortify the canal. (Horowitz et.al. 76) The
U.S. had learned that during the Spanish-American war it could have used a inter-oceanic
canal as it took one of its warships over sixty days to reach Cuba from the California
coast by traveling around the horn of South America. After the war it had also acquired
territory throughout the Pacific. Having a canal in place would allow its ships to move
more efficient throughout seas. In 1902 the U.S. purchased the assets and rights to the
land from France for $40,000,000. The government decided on Panama because it would be
shorter, straighter and require fewer locks, along with an already established railroad.
The U.S. signed the Hay-Herran Treaty with Colombia for a sovereign strip of land 10 miles
wide in order to build the canal. The treaty had the U.S. paying Colombia $10,000,000 and
an annuity of $250.000 every year after ten years. The Colombian government rejected the
treaty. Roosevelt became impatient and supported the uprising of the Panama republic to
separate from Colombia. The U.S. sent warships on both sides of the Isthmus to keep the
Colombians from quelling the independence movement of Panama. In 1903 Panama declared its
independence. A new treaty with Panama was now signed. The Hay-Buneau-Varilla Treaty,
ratified in 1904 by both Panama and the U.S., required the U.S. to pay Panama the
$10,000,000 and granted the U.S. the same ten mile wide sovereign zone for construction.

In 1904 the U.S. operation in Panama was slowly underway. The problem of yellow fever and
malaria was the first obstacle to overcome. Nearly all of the men who came to Panama in
1905 contracted malaria. At the same time studies were being done in Cuba that proved
diseases were linked with the mosquitoes. Until then the diseases were thought to have
risen out of the earth after it was freshly dug. The workers then started taking
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