Part of Teddy Roosevelt s dream of making America a global power was realized through the construction of the Panama Canal. The French began construction in 1880 but nine years and about 20, 000 lives later they realized their plans were flawed and abandoned the project. Panama declared independence and the United States decided to continue the work on the canal that the French could not. First the U. S. controlled the diseases that claimed so many workers lives.
Then they developed an innovative design for a series of locks. Finally their determination paid off when they united the oceans on January 7, 1914. Many Brilliant minds brainstormed and came up with the idea of being able to split continents to make passage for ships. The first man to attempt this feat was Ferdinand de Lesseps. He expected the cost would be around 400 million francs, but he only managed to raise 30 million francs.
Work began in 1882 along the route of the 1855 Panama Railroad. The company and the canal were plagued with many troubles. The financial situation was the biggest problem. Several times Lesseps was forced to go collect more funds from his countrymen. He got the money from loans and once he hosted a lottery. Diseases were also being spread such as yellow fever and malaria.
These two diseases put some in the hospital and were fatal for many. Also, the rocky, volcanic ground that used to cover the area was a problem. The rock was too much for the French steam shovels and dredges. Lesseps also did not have things easy since he wanted to make a sea level canal rather then having used locks. What Lesseps didn t realize is that there would be a great deduction in the overall cost of the canal and it is more likely or believable to be accomplished then a sea level canal. Due to a great amount of problems in trying to build a sea level canal, the plan was changed to include a single, temporary lock.
Things were not going good for Lesseps His company had to be shut down in order to pay back investors and banks from which he loaned money. Lesseps was condemned to court, but he was never fined or jailed. The Spooner Act, which was passed in 1902, gave President Roosevelt 40 million dollars to purchase the new Panama Canal Company and the power to negotiate a treaty with Columbia. Columbia was offered 10 million and 250 thousand dollars annually for a 100-year lease on a six-mile wide strip of the canal. The Colombians, however, rejected this offer. It wasn t until Panama declared independence from Columbia that a treaty was signed between America and Panama.
Before the work could begin the U. S. wanted to overcome most of the deadly problems that plagued the first attempt at the canal. To accomplish this the American doctor William Gorgas was asked to examine the area. Female mosquitoes belonging to the Anopheles and Stegomyia breed caused the most troublesome diseases. Other deadly diseases on file at local hospitals were tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox, and bubonic plague.
To eliminate these diseases troops had to walk through sewers and swamps spraying a combination of oils and insecticides. After the pests were eliminated the medical teams could concentrate on controlling the other deadly diseases. Once construction was to begin Congress set up a commission to regulate over the canal, which meant these people elected to be part of the commission would check and confirm all goods or funds requested by the chief engineer. The first priority was to fix up Panama City and Colon. Men were hired locally and overseas. These men would pave roads, repair buildings, and put in an upgraded sewer and water system.
The first Chief Engineer was John F. Wallace. He arrived in Panama and began work immediately. He fixed the French buildings that were left from the 1880 s. The workers had to lie knew railroad tracks because the American railroad cars were too wide for the old track. When Wallace needed equipment there was an extremely long wait for receiving it because the commission had to approve the request.
He did not think these working conditions were good enough for him therefore he quit. The second Panama Canal Chief Engineer was John Stevens. Stevens had to decide whether or not to build a sea level canal or a lock canal. He requested a lock canal after much deliberation.
Stevens thought it would be a good idea to do some work on the Charges River to turn it into a lake for the lock system. President Roosevelt and the commission approved the mapping of the new lake, locations to block the river, and put the locks. By this time the diseases were amazingly reduced in occurrence. After Stevens returned to Panama to begin construction he wrote a letter to President Roosevelt saying, he was not anxious to continue working so Stevens resigned. Army Lieutenant George Washington Goethals was appointed by Roosevelt to replace Stevens. From this point on the canal was under a military discipline control.
George Goethals was used to the government s rules and he knew how to get what he needed quickly. Goethals introduced a cost-keeping system, which kept track of costs of different materials and jobs. This system also tracked the increase or decrease of spending accurately. This cost-keeping system saved U. S. millions of dollars.
Goethals had all workers organized on projects in order to keep everyone busy. He also set up a complaint board. Most of the people did not complain, but instead they thanked Goethals for what he did for the organization. In 1908, change in the design of the canal had to be made.
The width of the canal was increased to 300 ft. from 200 ft. The size of the lock had to be enlarged by 15 ft (95 ft. to 110 ft.
). All of the extra soil was dumped in the jungle or wherever railroad tracks could be laid. The locks were also moved inland for two purposes. The first purpose was for military strategy. If they ever went to war the locks could not be hit from the ocean. The second reason for moving the locks was very necessary because the supports were beginning to sink at the first location.
The most difficult area of excavation was at Culebra Mountain, which was also known as Culebra Cut. The canal had to be dug out of one of the largest mountains. The heavy Panamanian rainfall caused mudslides year round until there was a gradual slope. The French tried to maintain a steep slope, but the angle was impossible to hold. The total amount of dug up from the Culebra Cut was 96 million cubic yards. About 30 million of that being soil was deposited on the bottom of the Cut by landslides.
Around 19 million pounds of explosives were used in the Cut, but there were eight fatalities. The overall design of the canal is this: a damn built a Gatun to fuel the locks; a series of three locks at Gatun, each would raise and lower the ships 85 ft. vertically; another set of two locks at Per do Miguel and a single lock at Miraflores on the Pacific side; the width at the bottom of the canal was to be 300 ft. , the width at the top was dependent on the location; the Naos Island breakwater, and armaments at both entrances to keep the canal free for international travel. The locks themselves were enormous. Each was over a thousand feet long.
The locks were manufactured in the states and transported to the site in sections and cemented together. Water was to flow into or out of the locks through gigantic culverts in the walls of the locks. On each ocean, the 26 million gallons of fresh water is lost to the ocean, meaning a total of 52 million gallons is deposited. The Canal was completed in August of 1914.
The canal was finished under a budget of 23 million dollars. The first ship to cross the canal was the Cristobal. The first official and publicized ship to make the voyage was Ancon. The opening of the canal came at the beginning of WWI; therefore the canal was the last thing on everyone s mind. During the war 2, 000 ships annually visited the canal. When the war was over it grew to over 5, 000 ships yearly, until now which receives 7, 000 ships annually.
The toll to travel through the canal was 90 cents a ton. The toll has now been raised to $1. 08 a ton. Just about any commercial, private, or inter oceanic travel ships are able to voyage through the Panama Canal with the exception of oil super tanks. The problem of the Culebra Cut has not been solved. Even today slides put rock debris at the bottom of the canal.
After many deaths and tough obstacles to overcome the Panama Canal was finally accomplished. Chief engineer after chief engineer Army lieutenant George Washington Goethals had the training and confidence to make this dream happen. He saved the U. S. millions of dollars and cleaned up the city of Panama. Now ships can travel through the canal and experience the locks system.
Not many can say they have experienced the pain and suffering that the construction workers did. Yet when it was all over they had a sense of pride and dignity in them.