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The Panama Canal
By: Nicholas Moscati
The Building of The Panama Canal
Published by: AMS Inc.
Written By:Nicholas Moscati
Edited By: Jones and Mancuso Inc.
Copyright Date: January 9, 2015
Imagine you’re in a boat, and there is a tiny strip of land, only 50 miles wide blocking your way. The only other way was to go 7,000 miles around the tip of an entire continent! Well, that trip was saved with The Panama Canal.
Before the Panama Canal, ships had to travel all the way around South America and back up again to get to Peru
The Spanish Explorer, Vasco Nunez de Balboa
In the year 1532, the Spanish had just defeated the Inca Empire located in Peru, and King Charles V needed a quicker way to get to the gold mines there. Before the canal, ships would have to travel all the way around the tip of South America, and back up again to Peru. Years later, after many failures in thoughts of what could be done, Vasco Nunez de Balboa discovered a part of Central America that was only 50 miles wide, and suggested to build a canal.This land was called Panama.
Balboa was a Spanish explorer and wanted to benefit the Spanish by helping them get to Peru. He was, too, a Spanish conquistador. Thus he had discovered the island of Hispaniola. Hispaniola is now known as the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. He was also a Spanish governor. In 1513, Balboa became the first European explorer to reach the Pacific Ocean from the New World. Furthermore, Balboa founded the first permanent settlement on the American lands. It was called Santa Maria. He was the mayor of this settlement for several years.
Above: The line represents the path between Spain and Panama
This canal would not only shorten the trip to Peru by 7,000 miles, and help them get to the gold mines, but it would be a huge military advantage against their rival in the New World, Portugal. At the time, Portugal was in present-day Brazil. They would be able to get to Portugal easier than before with the canal. Despite the fact that it was the thinnest piece of land in the eastern hemisphere, Panama was still a treacherous landscape to work through.
80 tons of dynamite was used to blow up land for the canal.
FUN FACT! MORE THAN 700 MILLION POUNDS OF DYNAMITE WERE USED TO MAKE THE LOCKS
Eventually, Charles V ordered Panama’s regional governor to build a canal across the land. He agreed (out of force), but said it would be impossible to build. At the time,U.S president, Ulysses S. Grant had sent out several expeditions to scope out the area to see if the land was capable of holding a canal. Grant wanted every detail of the land’s terrain and climate so that the workers would know what to do in order to build the canal.
Ulysses S. Grant sent out expeditions to strategize the Panama Canal to judge the terrain.
The first attempt to build the canal was not made by the Americans, but the French. However, they did it for the Americans, not the Spanish. Ferdinand de Lesseps led the construction. He did it so that people from New York could travel to California and back. After his success on the Suez Canal in Egypt, he was confident that he could do the same with the Panama Canal. Nevertheless, the terrain in Panama was much more rough and dangerous than in Egypt. He planned to build a passage right at sea level. This would be challenging though because Central America created immense problems such as millions of tons of rock and soil had to be moved. Despite the landslides and rock, there was a bigger problem: The worker’s health.
After his success on the Suez Canal in Egypt, de Lesseps was hoping to become known for constructing two canals.
Jungle diseases in the Panama Jungle spread like wildfire. Diseases such as yellow fever and malaria, were popular in that area. Yellow Fever was really a fever that caused chills, loss of appetite, nausea, headaches, and extreme muscle pain in the back. Malaria was an awful disease that caused your body temperature to go from freezing cold, to burning hot, and you would eventually die from one temperature.
After many fails and troubles with construction and disease, Ferdinand de Lesseps and the French finally gave up in 1889. Almost 22,000 lives were taken by the diseases, or construction accidents.
The source of Yellow Fever was discovered by the Americans. It was a certain type of mosquito.
The Americans were extremely fulfilled with the canal treaty, and they picked up from where the French had left off. The U.S. government paid $40,000,000 to continue the canal where the French left off.
The Americans had sparked revolutions in Panama, and helped them rebel against Colombia. Ultimately, without firing a single shot, Panama declared their independence from Colombia on November 3, 1903. Like they agreed, Panama signed the treaty, and the U.S. owned the canal area. They had signed it with Panama’s new ambassador (Panamanian president), Philippe Bunau-Varilla.
Right: News headline for the Peace Treaty of Panama being ratified
The U.S. had several advantages to building the canal that the French didn’t. One was, the U.S. found out the source of Yellow Fever was a mosquito. Also, they invested in sanitation and mosquito-proof programs to keep them away from the workers. Therefore, the disease problem was brought under control. The Americans used a different design than the French did.The plan was no longer to build a sea-level passage, but to use locks.
The Americans knew that this project would take several years, advanced technology, and thousands of labor workers. This would be an extremely dangerous task, that no one had ever accomplished before and would be considered the universe’s best man-made structure that still stands. But of course, they were willing to take on the challenge.
This was not even close to the amount of workers they were going to need to do the job
That’s why they built locks. Locks were built to contain the larger ships and lift them to a higher level of water; almost like climbing a mountain with water coming down from it. They were large, and once they rose to the water, it would be hard to see them because they are just slightly underwater. The end was arrow-shaped, to match the boat’s undercarriage. Pipes carried water to the locks so the boat could rise above the water and on to the next level. The pipes were 15 ft in diameter. More than 700 million pounds of coal were used, along with 30 million pounds of dynamite to blow up the ground to make room for the locks. The gates that kept in the water from flooding were 82 feet high. And the sidewalls under the water were 50 feet thick. The locks were finished by 1913.
Above: A diagram of a set of Panama Canal locks
As the canal progressed, U.S. president, Theodore Roosevelt was going on debate with Congress, and he wanted to get away from it for a while so he looked more closely into the Panama Canal project and said, “I took the Canal Zone and let Congress debate and while the debate goes on, the canal does also.”
A photo of U.S. president, Theodore Roosevelt
During Roosevelt's presidency, he did not do much to cause much controversy. As you can assume, he was not the most exciting president. But this quote from a speech was very intriguing. In a speech after he got the land for the canal, he said,
“ But the Panama Canal would not have started if I had not taken hold of it, because if I had followed the traditional or conservative method I should have submitted an admirable state paper to Congress… the debate would be proceeding at this moment… and the beginning of work on the canal would be fifty years in the future. Fortunately [the opportunity] came at a period when I could act unhampered. Accordingly I took the Isthmus, started the canal and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me." --Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt giving a speech
The U.S. also had similar problems to the French when building the canal. For instance, they had construction failures, huge mind blocks, money trouble, and even still some malaria deaths. But they still managed to pull through, just like the great country that they are.
These two countries worked together and succeded with the Panama Canal
APPENDIX- Panama before the canal
It was an important connecting passage between the Americas. After the natives of Panama went away, Christopher Columbus discovered Panama City in 1502. This is how its forest and mineral riches became known to the Europeans. The Spanish made settlements in Panama and in nearby countries,and taking their riches and natural resources. The riches of Panama were soon revealed to the pirates. Then it was basically a race between the Spanish and the pirates to see who could get more of Panama’s riches. In the mid 1800’s Panama became a part of Colombia and was part of it for over 50 years! But Panama rebelled and became free in 1903. So they had power over themselves, and their own government to make their own choices.
This is what Panama looked like before the canal, when nobody could get from the Caribbean to the Pacific.
Intruiging-to arouse the curiosity or interest of by unusual, new, or otherwise fascinating or compelling qualities; appeal strongly to; captivate:
Ratified-to confirm by expressing consent, approval, or formal sanction
Labor Workers- Unpaid workers
Foreign-of, relating to, or derived from another country or nation; not native
Controversy-argument that involves many people who strongly disagree about something : strong disagreement about something among a large group of people
Conquistador-one of the Spanish conquerors of Mexico and Peru in the 16th century.
Ambassador-a diplomatic official of the highest rank, sent by one sovereign or state to another as its resident representative