What Is the History of the Building of the Panama Canal?


Quick Answer

Construction on the Panama Canal began in 1881. Two French companies attempted to complete the canal, with the first going bankrupt in 1889, and the second never really gained enough momentum to get started. In 1902, the United States purchased the land around the incomplete canal and began construction two years later. After a few false starts, it was completed in 1913, and it opened to traffic the following year.

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Full Answer

The Panama Canal was not actually Panamanian until 1999. Originally the land was controlled by Colombia, and the French bought it for the project. The United States bought the unfinished canal from the French, and then it was turned over to Panama as part of the diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Panama in 1977. After a period of joint ownership and operation, Panama took over full control of the canal 76 years after its completion.

Originally the Panama Canal was supposed to be a sea-level canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It soon became obvious that this design was far too ambitious, leading to the raised lock design. Ships rise about 85 feet above sea level as they traverse the canal, and the trip takes between 20 and 30 hours.

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