The Panama Canal, constructed by the United States with previous construction by France in Central America, opened to traffic on this day in 1914. The need for such a canal became obvious by the 19th century, as freight ships were forced to travel a much longer way around the tip of South America, making shipping much more expensive and time consuming. In the late 19th century, France took up the project, beginning construction on the canal. However, engineering problems, along with large amounts of casualties due to accidents and disease caused them to cancel the project. In 1904 the United States took over the canal’s construction, making the canal’s ownership transfer from Colombia, to France, then to America.
The construction’s end meant that countries bordering on the Pacific Ocean such as Peru or Chile more integrated with the world economy, as ships no longer had to traverse the Straits of Magellan to reach their ports. The Panama Canal is one of the world’s most difficult engineering feats, and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Over the span of ten years of American construction, more than $8,600,000,000 were spent in today’s money, and more than 5,000 lives were claimed by disease and accidents. The Panama Canal, which services thousands of ships annually, is now expanding, with plans expecting the construction to finish by 2016. The construction of the Panama Canal had consequences other than the immediate industrial boom in the Pacific Ocean, including Panama’s independence.
As America’s interests in Panama grew more apparent, they signed a deal with Colombia, paying them for a lease, but ending with tension between the three countries as Panama declared their independence in 1903, with the United States supporting this. A war almost broke out between Colombia and America, but eventually Colombia recognized the country’s independence. The deal signed between America and Panama also became a point of contention, as many of Panama’s citizens called it a breach of their sovereignty. Although the Panama Canal and the immediate area remained under American control for many years, by the end of the 20th century, deals were made to transfer control to Panama. By 1999, full control of the are was given to Panama.