Panama Canal. As early as the year 1528 the idea of a ship canal across the isthmus was entertained. In 1826 a line for such a canal was traced between Panama and Portobello; and between 1843 and 1874 repeated surveys were made by American, English and French engineers with the same view. See ATRATO.
A route was selected by the distinguished French engineer M. de Lesseps, who constructed the Suez Canal. His original plans contemplated a "sea-level" cutting without locks. Early in 1880 he was upon the ground with his scientific corps, and work was continued till 1889, when the lack of funds compelled a stoppage. The report of the special commission sent out by M. Brunet, the liquidator of the Panama Canal Company, to investigate the condition of the canal, estimates that it would cost $97,000,000 to complete the canal. The total cost was fixed at $180,000,000. The report further said that it would take between seven and eight years to complete it. The annual cost of management was estimated at $2,000,000. In 1897, the United States government appointed a commission, Rear-Admiral John G. Walker, president, to examine and report on the most practicable route for a canal across the isthmus. On Dec. 4, 1900, the commission reported unfavorably to the Panama route. On Jan. 4, 1902, the new Panama Company offered to sell its entire rights to the United States for $40,000,000. The prohibitive price originally asked, over $100,000,000, had been one of the deciding factors in the commission's report favoring the Nicaragua route, and the new offer consequently again opened the whole matter for discussion. It was estimated that under this offer the complete cost of the Panama Canal would be $184,233,358, being about $5,000,000 less than the estimate for the Nicaragua route. In June, 1902, the United States Congress passed a bill accepting the offer and deciding upon Panama as the route for the canal. On Nov. 4, 1903, Panama, formerly a department of Colombia, seceded from that country, declared itself a republic, and assumed all Canal Treaty obligations. The United States at once recognized the new government and negotiated a treaty in which it agreed to pay $10,000,000 for the rights granted, which included the control in perpetuity of a zone of land five miles wide on each side of the canal. In April, 1904, the purchase from the French claimants was completed and the American work on the canal begun. An agitation having arisen on the question of a sea-level vs. a lock canal, this was settled in 1906 in favor of the latter.
The length of the canal will be about 50 miles, including 9½ miles of ocean approaches, leaving the land length about 40½ miles. The canal, as it is now being constructed, will have a summit level of 85 feet above the sea, to be reached by a flight of 3 locks at Gatun, on the Atlantic side, and 3 on the Pacific side, each lock to have a usable length of 1,000 feet and a width of 110 feet. The Gatun dam will make a lake with an area of 104.23 square miles. The bottom width of the canal cut will vary from 300 feet in Culebra Cut to an indefinite width in the lake. It will have a minimum depth of 41 feet. The former very unwholesome condition of the Isthmus was eliminated by a thorough system of sanitation, and the work has progressed with remarkable rapidity. In his annual report for 1910, Chief Engineer Goethals stated the total excavation as 113,450,348 cubic yards; amount still to be removed, 61,216,246 cubic yards; expenditure on work to date, $103,005,169; estimated total cost, excluding payment for French rights, $375,000,000; work expected to be completed by Dec. 1, 1913; and the canal to be officially opened on Jan. 1, 1915.
Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.