The Panama Canal
One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken; the Panama Canal provides a key link in world trade through the Isthmus of Panama by creating a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Although Charles V first proposed the idea in 1524, it wasn’t until 1880 that the French sponsored an official attempt to build it; one that was plagued with disaster as over twenty thousand of its workers succumbed to malaria and yellow fever. The United States helped Panama separate from Columbia into an independent nation and in exchange was awarded control over the Panama Canal Zone. Construction was finished two years ahead of schedule and was opened in 1914. After many years of protest, the US turned over its control to the Panama Canal Authority at the end of 1999.
The canal has eradicated the need for a ship to traverse the treacherous Cape Horn at the tip of South America and has cut travel time for a voyage from New York to San Francisco in half. Over 14,000 ships of various sizes, from private yachts to enormous cargo vessels know as Panamax, pass through the 48-mile long canal each year. As the demands of cargo volume continue to grow, so will the size of the Panama Canal. Construction is currently underway to create a new lane of traffic, which will double the canal’s capacity and hopefully will diminish poverty in the country.