St. Louis Arch
Imagine wanting to travel from New
York to San Francisco and having to sail all the way around
the tip of South America to get there! In the days before
transcontinental railroads, that was your only choice. Even
after the railroads were completed, both people and goods
still faced a long, difficult sea voyage to reach the
Pacific coast. How could the United States solve this
The French had tried to build a canal across the isthmus of
Panama, but their attempt was not successful. So in 1904,
under the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, the
United States took over the French property and began to
construct the Panama
When building the Panama Canal the project faced three
problems that could keep it from completion. They were
engineering, sanitation, and organization. John F. Stevens
and Col. George C. Goethals solved the problems of
engineering and organization. Col. William C. Gorgas
overcame the final problem, sanitation, combating the
diseases of malaria
and yellow fever so the workers would stay healthy. By 1905,
Colonel Gorgas had cleaned up the area and improved sanitary
conditions so that construction could begin.
problems were enormous.
Because the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are at different
elevations, a series of three sets of water-filled chambers,
called locks, that raise and lower ships from one level to
the next, had to be excavated and constructed.
Thousands of workers labored on the canal for 10 years,
using steam shovels and dredges to cut through jungles,
hills, and swamps. Workers took out 211 million cubic yards
of ground and rock to create a canal that is 50.72 miles
On July 12, 1920, President Woodrow Wilson officially opened
the Panama Canal.
The United States has controlled the Panama Canal Zone since
1903. However, a treaty approved by Panama's voters in 1977
and by the United States in 1978 will give Panama control of
the canal on December 31, 1999.