Who Built The Panama Canal & Why?

imagesCA6KKWT2Even if you are not a mariner, its quite possible that you have heard about the Panama Canal. But do you actually know who built the Panama Canal and more importantly what is the feature that makes it so different from other normal canals, apart from its grandeur and length. Well let us discuss and find out about all this in the article. We will first discuss a few general things about the Panama Canal and then move on to the engineering marvel that it is, and how it is helping marine companies and sea traffic all across the world.

General Specs

The Panama Canal connects the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. It is nearly an 80 kilometers (approx 50 miles) long canal. The construction of the canal started in 1881. It was completed by 1914. Once this canal was constructed it ensured that the ships will not have to sail through the route of Cape Horn to reach the southernmost tip of South America.

The Strait of Magellan that has very rough waters too could have been avoided by the use of the Panama Canal. The construction of the canal also ensured that ships can travel the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in much lesser time.

Bit of History

The area around the Panama Canal has a history. It was first owned by the Columbian, then the French and later by America. After that it came under the control of Panamanian Government in 1999. When the Panama Canal opened it would handle traffic of one thousand ships. As of 2008 the traffic was around fourteen thousand vessels. The canal was opened in 1914. The Panama Canal is also considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The origin of the Canal dates back to 1534. The Charles V of Roman Empire and the king of Spain were the first who initiated the construction of this canal. In 1849 the canal became strategically more important as gold was discovered in California. It did help the world trade a lot.

It was almost impossible to even imagine that a canal like this can be built. The French were the first who started the construction. They almost went bankrupt after they lost twenty two thousand lives in the incident. They had also spent a huge sum making this canal.

The Suez Canal is twice as big as the Panama Canal. However, the complication involved in making the Suez Canal was much less. There a mechanism of lifting ships to a height and lowering them again. The main reason for the failure at the first was that the French did not understand the Geology and the Hydrology of the area well.

The region near the Panama Canal is a tropical region as a result these areas see a heavy rainfall and landslides. There are lot of mosquitoes in this region. These mosquitoes are responsible for many diseases that happen in this area. This was also a reason why so many lives were lost at the first place.

Since 1890 the United States of America started to show a lot of interest in the canal. They made a good study of the region and the canal. After a deep study they started to build the Canal. After a lot of hardships they succeeded in building the canal.

Once the canal opened it proved to be very important to the world trade. It made the time taken by the ships to cover the route much lesser. It also ensured that the cost of transportation is also reduced. Looking at the success of the Panama Canal many more countries in the world are planning to build similar canals.

The Engineering Marvel Of Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a good example of technical progress and the ability of the human beings to fight all odds. The lock system which lifts and drops ships to a height of 26 meters is just unbelievable but a true feat of gigantic engineering marvel achieved with great pain and sacrifice though.

The basic diagram of the canal is shown in figure below (Courtesy: BBC) and as you can see it acts almost like a bridge where the ship first “climbs the stairs” of three steps and then at the other end it “descends the stairs” of 3 steps.

Panama Canal Layout

Panama Canal Layout

The above diagram clearly shows the various lakes and routes involved in going from one end at A to the other end at point B as depicted in the picture.

The picture below would help you get a better understanding of the mechanism by seeing the actual gates instead of the schematic shown above. as you can see the different chambers of water are at different heights. Once the ship gets in, the gates are closed and water is filled with gravity action and when the level in two adjacent locks is same, the same process is repeated for next lock.

Panama Canal Locks

Panama Canal Locks

There are three sets of locks on either side of the canal, making the ship go through six such locks and a journey of nearly 50 miles but in turn saving huge amount of time and money due to fuel costs etc on the whole.

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