The Panama Canal is a 48-mile wide ship canal that connects the Atlantic with the Pacific. It cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and played a large, important role in assisting world trade and making the United States a world leader and power. It impacted the economy of not only the United States but several small Central American countries that neighbor Panama, as well as the country of Panama as well. The canal enabled ships to pass through the America’s without having to brave the long trip around Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America.
It opened for the first time on August 15, 1913 after taking some 10 years to complete. The 1904 construction project which created the Panama Canal was not the first attempt at constructing a connector between the two Americas. The French saw a need for the canal and began work back in 1881 but abandoned the project after workers died and engineering the canal proved to be nearly impossible (at the time).
The United States set up the Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC) to oversee the construction. The commission reported directly to then secretary of war William Howard Taft. Taft was put in charge of overseeing the commission and making sure that the construction was efficient and free of the issues that the French experienced some decades earlier. President Theodore Roosevelt created the Panama Canal Project and appointed John Findley Wallace as its chief engineer. Engineers and workers handling the project had to first put in place the infrastructure needed to house the thousands of workers that would be working on the project. They saw a great need for sanitation first, a mistake that the French had overlooked. They put in place numerous measures to cut down on the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as Yellow Fever and Malaria through a series of sanitation measures. In fact, mosquito-borne diseases were nearly eliminated during this time of construction.
The construction of the canal was completed in 1914, 401 years after Panama was first crossed by Vasco Núñez de Balboa. The United States spent almost $375,000,000 (roughly equivalent to $8,600,000,000 now) to finish the project. This was by far the largest American engineering project to date. The canal was formally opened on August 15, 1914, with the passage of the cargo ship SS Ancon.
When in Casco Viejo, be sure to check out the Panama Canal Museum. The Canal Museum is filled with planning materials and interesting artifacts from the construction. Photos, site plans and much more are on display. If in Casco Viejo, check out Magnolia Inn, a beautifully reconstructed French colonial mansion, which features a 16-room hotel and hostel with 6 dorm rooms. In addition to being one of the best reviewed hotels and hostels in Casco Viejo by Trip Advisor, Booking.com and Hostel Word, Magnolia Inn is conveniently located near a variety of attractions. In Panama City, these include:
- the Panama Canal
- the Panama Canal Museum
- the jungle around Gatun Lake
- Monkey Island
- Amador Causeway
- Frank Gehry's Biomuseo
- the Bridge of the Americas
- Avenida Balboa
In Casco Viejo, these include: