The Panama Canal
A canal is a
waterway dug across land. They are of two types: navigation
canals and water conveyance canals. Navigation canals are
constructed to enable easy movement between two water bodies,
while water conveyance canals carry water from one end to
The Panama canal is a navigation canal that connects the
Atlantic and the Pacific oceans and is considered one of the
greatest engineering feats of the world. It is a lake and lock
What is a canal
Canal locks are rectangular chambers that enable ships to move
from one water level to another by varying the amount of water
in the lock. The locks are usually made of concrete and have
Running a length of eighty-two kilometers, the Panama Canal passes
through the narrow Isthmus of Panama, in Central America. It extends
from the Limone Bay on the Atlantic to the Bay of the Panama on
Construction of the Canal
The French beginning:
Work on constructing the canal began in the year 1881. French
diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had supervised the Suez Canal
excavation, formed the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interocéanique.
He began cutting a sea level channel through the isthmus. However,
the project was besieged with problems right from the word go.
Disease, problems in interpersonal relationships and finger pointing
over an issue of fraud and cheating brought work to a standstill
eight years after work began. The French company, which had
collapsed, reared its head as the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de
Panama in the year 1894.
A Lock In the Panama Canal
The American take-over:
With no great achievement falling through, the responsibility of
constructing the canal was passed to the United States in the year
1903. A pact called the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty also granted sole
operating rights to the United States. What inevitably followed was
that the Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama sold its holdings to
the United States the following year.
Americans were plagued with a dilemma - whether to build a sea-level
or a high-level lake and lock canal. Originally, in the year 1879, a
French engineer Adolphe Godin de Lépinay had planned creating
navigable lakes and damming the torrential Chagres River on the
Atlantic side of and the Río Grande on the Pacific side. Connecting
the navigable lakes by a cut through the continental divide had been
the original proposal. When the final draft was drawn by Americans,
the proposal of the French engineer was used as the basis.
The Panama Canal was opened to traffic on August 15, 1914. It played
a strategic role during the Second World War, enabling American
naval forces to move easily between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The Panama Canal Treaty of 1977 gave the Republic of Panama complete
control of the canal in the year 2000. The treaty was drawn as
result of United States and the Republic of Panama frequently
fighting over control rights.
No big vessel can pass through the locks of the Panama Canal under
its own power. They have to be towed by electric locomotives that
operate on cog tracks on the lock walls. Usually six locomotives are
employed to tow one vessel. The locks were made duplicate so that
they could be operated from either end.
In a year, around twelve thousand ships pass through the Panama
Canal. It provides valuable navigable short cuts to ships sailing
between the east and west coasts of USA, saving a distance of nearly
twelve thousand six hundred kilometers in the sea route between San
Francisco and New York City.