Major Engineering Events in History: The Panama Canal in 1920

About the major engineering events in history, the Panama Canal is completed in 1920.

1920 A.D. (The Panama Canal). President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the official opening of the Panama Canal on July 12, 1920, after 42 frustrating years of trying to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A Frenchman, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal, was the 1st to try to dig a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. Disease, corruption, and a lack of equipment forced De Lesseps's company into bankruptcy in 1889 after excavating 76 million cubic yards of earth. Then, on November 6, 1903, Panama and the U.S. signed the Hay-Banau-Varilla Treaty, allowing the U.S. to build the Canal, and to operate it forever. The greatest obstacle to building the Canal was disease. Col. William C. Gorgas of the U.S. Army instituted a successful campaign that all but eliminated that problem before U.S. excavation began. With disease under control, Col. George W. Goethals of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headed the construction team that overcame the physical obstacles: excavating the Gaillard Cut; damming the Chagres River; and constructing the 3 sets of double locks that would raise and lower the ships as they passed through the 50.72-mi.-long Canal. The main work on the Canal was completed in 1914 after removing over 211 million cubic yards of earth; expending about $380 million ($310 million for actual construction; $20 million for sanitation; $40 million paid to the original French companies; and $10 million paid to Panama for rights); and employing more than 43,400 persons (at the height of activity in 1913). Clean-up operations and minor problems, however, held off the official opening until July 12, 1920. Approximately 12,000 oceangoing vessels now pass through the Canal yearly, almost 35 a day. The record of 14,807 ship transits was set in 1968. Self-supporting, the Panama Canal charges revenues according to a ship's tonnage. The most money ever charged by the Canal for a ship's passage was $30,446 for the supertanker U.S.S. Orion Hunter in 1962. The smallest charge was 45 cent to swimmer Albert H. Oshiver, who swam through the locks in December, 1962. Each lock in the Canal system is 1,000' long, 110' wide, and 70' deep, allowing almost all ships but the U.S. Navy supercarriers to pass. The largest ship to sail through the Canal was the S.S. Bremen, with a length of 899', a beam of 101.9', a draught of 48.2', and a gross tonnage of 51,730.

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