The dream of digging a water passage across the Isthmus of Panama uniting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans dates to the early 16th century. The Isthmus of Panama, was characterized by mountains, impenetrable jungle, deep swamp, torrential rains, hot sun, debilitating humidity, pestilence and some of the most geologically complex land formations in the world. Both malaria and yellow fever were endemic to the Isthmus. When the Americans took over construction work from French teams in 1904, Medical researchers had found that mosquitoes cause malaria and yellow fever. Necessary prevetion measures and medical aids were provided to combat these diseases. Providing food for more than 40,000 employees and their families in a country with little food production capability and few stores was a tremendous. When the work was completed, 5609 lives were lost from disease and accidents during the American construction era in addition to around 20,000 during French construction era.
The first complete Panama Canal passage by a self-propelled, oceangoing vessel took place on January 7, 1914. It cut the ship journey of around 8000 miles. On average, it takes a ship 8 to 10 hours to pass through the canal. While moving through it, a system of locks raises each ship 85 feet above sea level. Ship captains aren’t allowed to transit the canal on their own; instead, a specially trained canal pilot takes navigational control of each vessel to guide it through the waterway. In 2010, the 1 millionth vessel crossed the canal. Today, some $1.8 billion in tolls are collected annually.
David McCullough in his book “The Path Between the Seas,” wrote: “The creation of a water passage across Panama was one of the supreme human achievements of all time, the culmination of a heroic dream of over four hundred years and of more than twenty years of phenomenal effort and sacrifice. The fifty miles between the oceans were among the hardest ever won by human effort and ingenuity, and no statistics on tonnage or tolls can begin to convey the grandeur of what was accomplished. Primarily the canal is an expression of that old and noble desire to bridge the divide, to bring people together. It is a work of civilization.”