The Panama Canal was first attempted by the Spanish government beginning in 1819, although it was not completed until 1913 by the U.S. government, after the country of Panama was created in 1903. It was first used on August 15, 1914.
The original owner of the land covered by the Panama Canal was La Société internationale du Canal, which obtained the rights to build the canal in 1878 from the Colombian government, the owner of the land prior to the creation of Panama. Construction began on Jan. 1, 1881. Complications to the construction included mudslides, unexpected costs and the high mortality rate of workers due to malaria and yellow fever. In 1894, construction was taken over by the New French Canal Company, although that effort was also not successful. After Panama revolted to form its own country, its U.S. supporter took over control of the territory from the French on May 4, 1904. As the United States took over construction, the project took on new speed, with 1 million cubic yards excavated per month by August of 1907. The first Panama Canal locks began construction in 1909. Excavation of the Culebra Cut, which covered the continental divide, took place in 1913. The first ship to pass completely through the Panama Canal was the French ship Alexandre La Valley, which completed its transit on Jan. 7, 1914.