The Panama Canal was one of the greatest triumphs and tragedies of the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. The tragedy was that the French were just simply too far ahead of technology, at that time, to complete or even get farther than the very beginning of the Panama Canal. The Americans took over the project after President Theodore Roosevelt's pushing of the Panamanian Revolution. After the Revolution the Americans took control of the canal and continued to build the canal to what it is today. The Panama Canal is one of the largest canals in the world. It consists of three dams, the Gatun, Pedro Miguel, and Mira Flores.
Despite the limit in ship size the canal is still one of the highest traveled waterways in the world. The Panama Canal was constructed in two stages. The first between 1881 and 1888, was carried out by the French company headed by De Lesson. Second, was the work by the Americans who eventually completed the canals construction between 1904 and 1914. (Cameron 79) The contract for the canals construction was signed on March 12, 1881, and it was agreed the work would be carried out for 512 million French francs. Midway through the building of the canal, in 1885, the French company started to run into financial difficulties and even applied to the French government to issue lottery bonds.
Rumors of these difficulties caused increased interest within the American government. The abandonment of the scheme at this stage would cause financial ruin for all the investors and a severe blow to the French. It was suggested that the original plan be modified and the lock system should be employed. Eventually, in 1899, France's attempt at constructing the Panama Canal was seen to be a failure. However, they had excavated a total of 59. 75 million cubic meters, which included 14.
255 million cubic meters from the Culebra Cut. (Barret 63) This lowered the peak by 102 meters. The value of work completed by the French was about $25 million. When the French departed, they left behind a considerable amount of machinery, housing and a hospital. The reasons behind the French failing to complete the project were due to disease carrying mosquitoes and the inadequacy of their machinery.
The construction of the canal was recommenced by the Americans in 1904. The first step on the agenda was to improve the standard of living and ensure ill health would be a thing of the past. The first American steam shovel started work on the canal on November 11, 1904. By December, 1905, there were 2, 600 men at work on the canal. Many engineering aspects of the Panama Canal point out the concern for the protection of the environment and natural resources. (Laf eber, 110) As the excavations were being carried out, a large amount of excess soil was produced.
The French initially hauled the soil to a valley where the soil was dumped and allowed to build up. This itself caused many problems during the rainy season and was the cause behind many of the landslides. The Panama Canal consists of three dams, including the Gatun Dam, Pedro Miguel, and the Mira Flores. The Gatun Dam is the largest of the three dams. The dam itself is 1. 5 miles in length and is nearly 0.
5 miles wide, at its' base. This dam contains 16. 9 million cubic meters of rock and clay. The dams at Pedro Miguel, and Mira Flores are small in comparison to the Gatun Dam. Their foundations are on solid rock and are subjected to a head of water of 12 meters; whereas, the Gatun Dam is subjected to a 24 meter head.
(Barret 64) The Gatun dam held back the water from the Chagres River, thus creating the Gatun Lake. As time passes by the soil continues to settle, which results in making the dam even stronger. The dam at Pedro Miguel is an earth dam which is approximately 300 meters in length with a concrete core wall. The Mira Flores dam is made up of two smaller dams forming a small lake with an area of about 2 square miles. One of the dams is constructed of earth and is 210 meters in length. The second of the dams at Mira Flores is 150 meters in length and is made from concrete.
(Barret 64). ￼ The Locks play a very significant role in The Panama Canal. Along the route of the canal there is a series of three sets of Locks, The Gatun, Pedro Miguel and the Mira Flores Locks. The Locks are constructed from concrete. An excess of 1.
53 million cubic meters of concrete was used in the construction of the Gatun Locks alone. (Barret 68) The smallest set of Locks along the Panama Canal are at Pedro Miguel and have one flight which raise or lower ships ten meters. The Mira Flores Locks have two flights with a combined lift of 16. 5 meters. The Panama Canal was a great accomplishment for America in the 19 th and early 20 th century. It is still very impressive to this day.
The 51 mile crossing takes about 9 hours to complete, which is an immense time saver when compared to rounding the tip of South America. The canal also relies on a significant amount of water to make up for the 52 million gallons of fresh water consumed during each crossing. The canal is still one of the most highly traveled waterways today, handling over 12, 000 ships per year. The history of the Panama Canal reveals many hardships dealing with financial issues, politics and protection of the environment. It is a wonder that it is was ever completed. It is admirable that the Americans had the fortitude and perseverance to continue what the French started.
This amazing canal continues to benefit us to this day!