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Panama Canal

The Panama Canal cuts through the isthmus of Panama and connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The canal has two sets of locks on the Pacific side and one on the Atlantic. The Pacific end, called Miraflores, is 24 cm higher than the Atlantic end, called Gatún, and has much greater tides. Between Miraflores Locks and Gatún Lake are Pedro Miguel Locks; each of these sets consists of one lock for Atlantic-bound ships and one for Pacific-bound. Lake Gatún[?], which is 26 meters above sea level, is fed by the Chagres River, which was dammed to make the lake. Gaillard Cut, between Miraflores and Pedro Miguel, is 9 meters above sea level. The Atlantic end is northwest of the Pacific end.

Several islands are located within the Lake Gatún portion of the Panama Canal, inclucing Barro Colorado Island, a nature preserve[?].


Construction on the canal began on January 1, 1880.

Prior to the canal's construction the fastest way to travel by ship from New York to California would have been to round the tip of South America, a long and dangerous route. After the success of the Suez canal in Egypt the French believed that they could connect another two seas with as little difficulty. Unfortunately, they did not realise the difference between digging quantities of sand in a dry flat area and removing vast quantities of rock from the middle of a jungle. Technical problems and high mortality rates from tropical diseases eventually forced the French to give up.

President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States felt that America could complete the project and that American control of the passage from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans would be militarily and economically important to the United States. At the time Panama was part of Colombia so Roosevelt proceded to negotiate with the Columbians to obtain the rights needed to build the canal. In early 1903 the Hay-Herran Treaty was signed by both nations but the Columbian Senate failed to ratify the treaty. In what was then, and still is, a very controversial move, Roosevelt implied to Panamanian rebels that if they revolted that the US Navy would assist their cause for independence.

Then when fighting began Roosevelt ordered American battleships stationed off of Panama's coast for "training exercises." Many argue that fear of a war with the United States caused the Columbians to largely avoid serious opposition to the revolution. The victorious Panamanians returned the favor to Roosevelt by allowing the United States to gain control of the Panama Canal Zone on February 23, 1904 for $10 million.

The first success of the Americans was in eliminating the noxious yellow fever that had been killing so many workers. The work on the canal was still grueling, but great progress was made.

When the canal opened in 1914 it was a technological marvel. A complex series of locks let even large ships pass through. The canal was an important strategic and economic asset to the US, and revolutionized world shipping patterns. The canal and the Canal Zone[?] surrounding it were administered by the United States until 1999 when control was relinquished to Panama. This was the result of the 1977 ratification of the Torrijos - Carter Treaty[?] in which US president Jimmy Carter conceded to Panamanian demands for control. The treaty called for a gradual changeover, placing the canal completely in Panamanian jurisdiction on December 31, 1999.

It has been declared one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers[?].

External links Official website of the Panama Canal Authority (http://www.pancanal.com)

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