Panama Canal

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The Panama Canal (Spanish: Canal de Panamá) is an 82-kilometre (51 mi) ship canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade.
Work on the canal, which began in 1881, was completed in 1914, making it no longer necessary for ships to sail the lengthy Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America and to navigate the dangerous waters of the Strait of Magellan. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut made it possible for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in half the time previously required. The shorter, faster, safer route to the U.S. West Coast and to nations in and along the Pacific Ocean allowed those places to become more integrated with the world economy.
Ownership of the territory that is now the Panama Canal was first Colombian, then French and then American before coming under the control of the Panamanian government in 1999. The Panama Canal has seen annual traffic rise from about 1,000 ships when it opened in 1914, to 14,702 vessels in 2008, the latter measuring a total of 309.6 million Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons. By 2008, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through the canal, many of them much larger than the original planners could have envisioned; the largest ships that can transit the canal today are called Panamax. The American Society of Civil Engineers has named the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
The earliest mention of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama dates to 1534, when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, ordered a survey for a route through the Americas that would ease the voyage for ships traveling between Spain and Peru. Such a route would have given the Spanish a military advantage over the Portuguese. During an expedition from 1788 to 1793, Alessandro Malaspina outlined plans for its construction.
Given the strategic location of Panama and the potential offered by its narrow isthmus separating two great oceans, other trade links in the area were attempted over the years. An ill-fated Darien scheme was launched by the Kingdom of Scotland in 1698 to set up an overland trade route, but generally inhospitable conditions thwarted the effort, and it was abandoned in July 1699.
In 1849, the discovery of gold in California created great interest in a crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Eventually, the Panama Railway was built to cross the isthmus, opening in 1855. This overland link became a vital piece of Western Hemisphere infrastructure, greatly facilitating trade and largely determining the later canal route.
An all-water route between the oceans was still seen as the ideal solution, and in 1855 William Kennish, a Manx-born engineer working for the United States government, surveyed the isthmus and issued a report on a route for a proposed Panama Canal. His report was published in a book entitled The Practicality and Importance of a Ship Canal to Connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Encouragement for the idea of a canal was provided by the French success in building the Suez Canal.
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THE HISTORY OF THE PANAMA CANAL (Part 1 of 2)
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