The Panama Canal was built to satisfy British and American shipping interests between the Atlantic and Pacific. The construction was completed in 1914 under the Roosevelt administration.
Earlier plans sought to build a canal in Nicaragua, but the presence of volcanoes made Panama a far safer option. At the time, however, Panama was a province of Colombia, and the country's government sought to block the plans. Supported by Roosevelt, the people of the region claimed independence from Colombia and a transitional government was established, allowing the U.S. to build and control the canal.
An earlier attempt headed by the French architect of the Egyptian Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps, had failed under the strain of disease, massive loss of life and, eventually, bankruptcy.