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History of Panama Canal Essay

Christopher Columbus was on his fourth voyage and he was looking for a way to China. That’s when he came across the country named Panama, which stretches only 60 miles, where he found Indians who had tons of gold. But he was looking for a way to China so he sent his brother Bartholomew to search for more gold. At first Indians were willing to lead the Spaniards to the gold, but eventually they got tired and led the Spanish back to the coast. When the Indians did this they were abused. Eventually the Indians fought back and drove of the Spanish.

Balboa is one of the people who found tons of gold and sent it back to Spain, but saved a lot for himself. With his earnings he decided to Balboa decided to settle in Hispaniola as a planter. But after some time he ended up in debt and had to abandon his life as a planter. Trying to escape his creditors Balboa hid in a ship and tried to escape, from Santo Domingo to San Sebastian, and was successful. When they arrived at San Sebastian, they discovered that it had been burned to the ground. Balboa convinced the others to travel southwest with him to a spot he had seen on his earlier expedition.

In 1511, Balboa founded a colony, the first European settlement in South America – the town of Santa Maria de la Antigua del Darien. Balboa married the daughter of Careta, the local Indian chief. Soon after, in 1513, he sailed with hundreds of Spaniards and Indians across the Gulf of Uraba to the Darien Peninsula. Balboa headed an overland expedition west through very dense rainforests. Along the way they fought many local Indians and destroyed one Indian village, killing hundreds of Indians. Balboa was the first European to see the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean.

Balboa and his men then traveled to the ocean and claimed it and all the land that touched it for Spain. The building of the Panama Canal came to light during the 1530’s. As they began to transport their riches back to the Spanish homeland, they were always interested in more efficient routes. It was suggested to Spanish Ruler Charles V that Panama might serve as an ideal place to construct a water passage joining the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This would considerably cut the time it took to otherwise sail around the southern edge of South America.

But wars back home put the idea on hold. In 1845 French company called the Compagnie de Panama wanted a railroad built by Colombia across Isthmus and administer it for 99 years. However in 1848 they couldn’t pay for it and lost their rights regarding the railroad. In 1848 the California gold rush occurred. This alone caused heavy traffic across the Isthmus of Panama. Later that year in December, U. S Company, the Panama railroad company negotiated a new contract with Bogota, Colombia to build the railroad across the Isthmus in 6 years.

Part of the contract said that the trip would be guaranteed in less than 12 hours. The railroad was built and completed the journey in 4 ? hours. But Matthew Fontaine Maury, leading U. S. government scientist wrote to congress that the railroad Isthmus of Panama will lead to the construction of a ship canal between the two oceans, for a railroad can’t do the business which commerce will require it. Railroad was expensive it cost $250 in gold to ride the 47 miles. It cost 10-15 cents a pound to carry a passenger’s baggage.

Express freight and merchandise was charged $1. 80 per cubic foot. Railroad Company made more than $7 million. This was too expensive for normal people and Maury’s words of 1849 came true as men from around the world began to arrive to build the Panama Canal. The first country to try and build the canal was France. Ferdinand de Lesseps, who supervised the Suez Canal, was interested in building the Panama Canal. He joined several French businessmen to form a private company with an impressive name: the Societe Civile Internationale du Canal Interuceanique du Darien.

The societe sent Lucien Napoleon- Bon parte Wyse, grandnephew of the 1st French emperor, Napoleon Bon parte to Panama in early November 1876, to survey the site for a canal and, more important, to secure the permission of Colombia for such a project. Colombian government and Wyse had an agreement. That for an initial payment of nearly $200,000 as well as yearly rental fee, societe was granted permission to build and administer a canal for 99 year lease. Colombia gave societe a belt of land 200 meter wide across the entire width of Panama. However at the end of 99 years the canal and land would be returned to Colombia.

In 1873 U. S. had conducted surveys of a potential route across Panama, but had rejected it. Wyes never did surveys, and decided to use the notes of U. S. surveys instead. After that he left Panama for home to report to Lesseps. The French plan was simple a channel across the Isthmus at sea level. They would follow a route that ran close to the existing Panama railroad. They planned to use the railroad to transport supplies and haul away the excavated dirt. Once the excavation had reached sea level the canal itself would be dug another 27 ? feet deep, and 72 feet deep at its bottom.

They planned to complete the canal in 12 years. However the idea of sea level canal was impossible to achieve. Charges river valley, through which and canal would have to go through stood at an altitude of 80-100 feet above sea level. Nobody including de Lesseps ignored this problem and said it was not serious. However the French never finished the sea level canal. 1000’s of men died of malaria, yellow fever and other diseases. Eventually in 1889 the French court also declared the French canal company was bankrupt. In 1903 Panama declared its independence from Colombia and wins it with the help of U. S. Soon the Hay- Bunau – Varilla treaty was signed which gave U. S. the right to build a canal through Panama.

At this time President Roosevelt was in charge. Roosevelt wanted to build the canal to increase America’s navy power, and it made the trip from the east coast to the west coast of the U. S. much shorter than the route taken around the tip of South America. 1904, the Americans’ first year in Panama, mirrored the French disaster. The chief engineer, John Findlay Wallace, neglected to organize the effort or to develop an action plan.

The food was putrid, the living conditions abysmal. Political red tape put a stranglehold on appropriations. Disease struck, and three out of four Americans booked passage home. Engineer Wallace soon followed. The Americans had poured $128 million into the swamps of Panama, to very little effect. Wallace’s replacement was John Stevens. Stevens had built the Great Northern Railroad across the Pacific Northwest. In rough territory from Canada to Mexico, he had proven his tenacity. And his new plan of action would ultimately save the canal. Stevens began work not by digging, but by cleaning.

Thanks to the work of WILLIAM GORGAS, the threats of yellow fever and malaria were greatly diminished. Then on February 12, 1907, a dispirited Chief Engineer Stevens resigned, and Goethals took over as the chief engineer. Colonel George Washington Goethals, an Army engineer with experience building lock-type canals, assumed the Chief Engineer’s post. Demanding and rigidly organized, Goethals quickly picked up where Stevens left off. America had to face a couple of problems. First they had to dig at the Culebra Cut, where 100,000,000 cubic yards of earth and rock would have to be removed.

The workers there made ten cents an hour — moved as much as 200 trainloads of spoil a day. When mudslides filled the Cut repeatedly, Goethals simply ordered it dug out again. There were accidents of all sorts, lost equipment, and deaths, but there was progress. The engineering problems were enormous. Because the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are at different elevations, a series of three sets of water-filled chambers, called locks, that raise and lower ships from one level to the next, had to be excavated and constructed.

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