Canal construction has spanned history:
Mesopotamia and India had the oldest canals for irrigation, c. 3,000 BC;
China's Grand Canal, begun in the 5th century BC, is almost 1,800 miles, linking the Yellow River and the Yangtze River;
- Greeks engineered canals, c 400 BC;
- Romans built an elaborate system of canals, pipes, tunnels, aqueducts & bridges, 312 BC-226 AD;
- Charlemagne oversaw in 793 AD the first artificial canal in Western Europe at Fossa Carolina, from the Rhine River basin to the Danube River basin;
- Britain's Glastonbury Canal was built in the 10th century;
- Italy's Naviglio Canal, from the Ticino River to Milan, took over a century to complete, 1157-1258;
- England's Exeter Canal was constructed in the 1560s;
- Netherlands, Flanders & Belgium constructed a dense system of canals, mostly in the 1600s;
- France's Canal de Briare, connecting the Loire and Seine Valleys, was completed in 1642;
- Germany built canals in the 18th century, on the rivers Spree, Elbe, Havel, Ems, Elster, Dahme, Oder, and Weser;
- Russia's canals were pioneered by Peter the Great, who built the Vyshny Volochyok Waterway, 1703-1722, connecting Saint Petersburg with the Baltic Sea, and later expanded in the 19th century to the White Sea;
- United States completed the 363 mile long Erie Canal in 1827, connecting Albany to Buffalo.
The history of the Panama Canal began when Columbus first landed in Panama on October 6, 1502, during his fourth and final voyage.
In 1534, the King of Spain, Charles V, who ruled the first global empire, ordered a survey of the Isthmus of Panama to assess the feasibility of a canal.
Such a canal would save explorers and merchants from having to sail the long, dangerous route around South America , passing through the Strait of Magellan, first traversed by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520.
A canal across Panama was again suggested in 1658 by England's Sir Thomas Browne.
In 1698, the Kingdom of Scotland attempted the Darien scheme, a trade colony in Panama to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Unfortunately for them, it was financially suppressed by the British East India Company and obstructed by a Spanish blockade.
Thomas Jefferson suggested a canal there in 1788.
Alessandro Malaspina, a Spanish naval officer sailed around the world and explored the Pacific, 1788 to 1793, proposed an outline for construction plans for a canal.
In 1827, Simón Bolívar, President of La Gran Colombia (Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Colombia), studied the feasibility of a railway across the Isthmus, as did U.S. President Andrew Jackson in 1836.
In 1838, a French company attempted to build a railroad and canal route, but it failed for lack of funding and technology.
In 1846, the U.S. signed a treaty with New Granada (Colombia) for rights to build a rail or canal route.
After the Mexican-American War, 1848, and the California Gold Rush, 1849, Captain Ulysses S. Grant and the 4th Infantry were ordered to relocate to San Francisco, traveling by way of Panama in 1852.
While crossing the Isthmus, a cholera epidemic killed so many soldiers that Grant organized a field hospital and cared for the ill himself, writing:
"The horrors of the road in the rainy season are beyond description."
The Panama Railroad Company, formed by New York businessmen, began building the first transcontinental railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Construction workers were English, Irish, Germans, Africans, Caribbean, Indian, and Chinese.
Completed in 1855, the nearly 50 mile railroad across muddy insect-infested, disease-ridden swamps, cost over 5,000 lives.
Mark Twain wrote a Special Correspondence of the Chicago Republican, New York, August 17, 1868:
"The Panama railroad was an American project ...
We took the train at Panama, clattered for two or three hours through a tangled wilderness of tropical vegetation, and discharged ourselves in Aspinwall (Colón) . It is only forty-five miles ...
That little road has carried about 100,000 passengers for the California steamers during the past twelve months ...
It was a hard road to build. The tropical fevers slaughtered the laborers by wholesale.
It is a popular saying, that every railroad tie from Panama to Aspinwall rests upon a corpse ... It is claimed that this small railroad enterprise cost the lives of 10,000 men. It is possible."
The idea for the Panama Canal gained momentum when the French finished the 120 mile long Suez Canal in 1869.
The construction of the 120-mile-long canal was led by builder Ferdinand de Lesseps.
It roughly followed the path of an ancient canal built by King Darius of Persia in the 5th century BC.
The Suez Canal enabled ships from the Far East and the Indian Ocean to reach the Mediterranean Sea without having to sail around the continent of Africa.
French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi spent two years designing an earlier version of the Statue of Liberty to stand as a lighthouse to guide ships to the entrance of the Suez Canal, but Ismail Pasha, the Khedive (Viceroy) of Egypt and Sudan, could not afford it.
In 1880, France's Ferdinand de Lesseps began building a sea-level canal across the Isthmus of Panama.
France's efforts were hindered by torrential seasonal rains which caused massive landslides.
France eventually abandoned the project due to the tropical diseases of malaria and yellow fever, which killed 25,000.
In 1899, a U.S. Army physician, Dr. Walter Reed, went to Cuba after the Spanish-American War do research.
He scientifically confirmed the previous discovery of Dr. Carlos Finlay, that malaria and yellow fever were carried by mosquitoes.
This knowledge led to efforts of public sanitation and the development of insecticides which saved thousands of lives and made construction of a canal in Panama possible.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center, founded in 1909, was named for him.
On November 3, 1903, the United States aided Panama in gaining independence from Colombia.
Also that year, on December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, introducing the era of air travel.
On FEBRUARY 23, 1904, the United States purchased the Canal Zone from Panama for ten million dollars on FEBRUARY 23, 1904, plus annual payments of $250,000.
The Panama Canal was planned by President William McKinley, with the actual construction beginning under President Theodore Roosevelt.
Instead of a straight sea-level canal, Roosevelt favored a set of three locks rising from sea-level to Gatun Lake, then on the other side of the lake, to have three locks going back down to sea level.
On December 17, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt addressed Congress:
"The Isthmus had been a by-word for deadly unhealthfulness.
Now, after two years of our occupation the conditions as regards sickness and the death rate compare ... with reasonably healthy localities in the United States.
Special care has been devoted to minimizing the risk due to the presence of those species of mosquitoes which have been found to propagate malarial and yellow fevers."
Advances in pesticides helped save millions of lives, with 5 of the 11 Nobel Prizes awarded between 1939 and 1952 going to scientists who made advances in controlling the spread of diseases.
Though used to eradicate mosquito-borne diseases in wealthier nations, the most effective pesticides were banned before they could do the same in Africa.
Similar to the Space program which gave birth to new technologies, construction of the Panama Canal birthed many inventions, such as:
hydraulic rock crushers;
pneumatic power drills; and
massive electric motors.
These inventions were largely developed and built in the United States. They were used to create Panama's Gatun Lake -- the largest dam and man-made lake in the world at that time.
On December 6, 1912, President William Taft addressed Congress:
"Our defense of the Panama Canal, together with our enormous world trade and our missionary outposts on the frontiers of civilization, require us to recognize our position as one of the foremost in the family of nations,
and to clothe ourselves with sufficient naval power to give force to our reasonable demands, and to give weight to our influence in those directions of progress that a powerful Christian nation should advocate."
On October 23, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson stated in his Thanksgiving Proclamation:
"We have seen the practical completion of a great work at the Isthmus of Panama which not only exemplifies the nation's abundant capacity of its public servants but also promises the beginning of a new age of co-operation and peace.
'Righteousness exalteth a nation' and 'peace on earth, good will towards men' furnish the only foundation upon which can be built the lasting achievements of the human spirit."
The Panama Canal was opened August 15, 1914, the same year World War I began.
Within 10 years, more than 5,000 ships a year were passing through the Panama Canal.
The largest American engineering project to that date, it had cost the United States $375,000,000 (over $10 billion today).
The Panama Canal also cost 5,600 American lives, over 100 for every one of the 50 miles across the Isthmus.
On March 31, 1976, California Governor Ronald Reagan stated:
"Well, the Canal Zone is not a colonial possession. It is not a long-term lease. It is sovereign United States Territory every bit the same as Alaska and all the states that were carved from the Louisiana Purchase ...
We bought it, we paid for it, we built it, and we intend to keep it."
After contentious public debate, Democrat President Jimmy Carter gave away the Panama Canal in 1977.
Concern arose as to what international influences would fill the vacuum once the United States transferred control.
Such concern was voiced by Admiral Thomas Moorer, commander of the U.S. Pacific and Atlantic fleets and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1970 to 1974, who stated in The New American, March 29, 1999:
"Chinese are poised to effectively take control of the Panama Canal ... The Panama Canal is very close to home and is one of our most vital commercial and military assets ...
In 1996, while China was illegally pouring millions of dollars into Clinton's reelection effort, it was also funneling huge amounts of cash to Panamanian politicians to ensure that one of its front companies, Hutchison Whampoa of Hong Kong, could move in when we vacate ..."
Admiral Moorer continued:
"In 1997, Panama secretly turned over the American-built port facility at Balboa, which controls shipping on the Pacific side, and at Cristobal, which controls shipping on the Atlantic side, to Hutchison ...
We are scheduled to turn over Rodman Naval Station, Howard Air Force Base, and other important military facilities to Panama, which has given Hutchison an option on these bases ..."
Admiral Moorer concluded:
"President Clinton may say that they are our friends and allies, but the Chinese military and Communist Party literature refer to the United States as 'the main enemy.'
And despite what ... Henry Kissinger, and the media may tell you about 'reform' in China, it is still run by a brutal, totalitarian, Communist regime that will do us harm if and when it thinks it can get the better of us."
China's Hutchinson Ports (CK Hutchinson Holdings) is the world's largest seaport operator.
In addition to controlling U.S. built anchor ports on either end of the Panama Canal (Balboa and Cristobal), it controls strategic ports all around the globe.
Panama has been a popular haven for American expats who prefer to not live in the United States, as it has warm climate, beautiful scenery, the cost-of-living is financially favorable. For safety, though, it is not uncommon to see bars on windows, fences, walls and armed security.
Since the mid-1970s, Panama , along with other Central and South American countries, has experienced Muslim immigration, with El Centro Cultural Islámico de Colón being dedicated on January 15, 1982.
The publication CRITICA reported (9/16/15) "ISIS Amenaza a Panama" (ISIS Threat to Panama.)
In 2016, the Panama Canal opened a new set of locks, doubling the waterway's capacity to accommodate larger ships.
An American-built canal, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his Autobiography:
"By far the most important action I took in foreign affairs during the time I was President was related to the Panama Canal."