Panama Canal 2 Essay Research Paper Intro

Panama Canal 2 Essay, Research Paper Intro In the 16th century, Europeans dreamed of building a ship canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Spanish kings considered building a canal to carry treasure from their South American colonies back to Spain, but no attempt was made. Such a project only became possible in the 19th century, with the machinery and knowledge produced during the Industrial Revolution, the transition from an agricultural to a mechanized economy.

Panama Canal 2 Essay, Research Paper


In the 16th century, Europeans dreamed of building a ship canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Spanish kings considered building a canal to carry treasure from their South American colonies back to Spain, but no attempt was made. Such a project only became possible in the 19th century, with the machinery and knowledge produced during the Industrial Revolution, the transition from an agricultural to a mechanized economy.

In the late 1870s a private French company won a concession from Colombia to build a sea-level canal in Panama and soon raised enough money to begin construction. Excavation in Panama began in 1882, but the company quickly ran into problems caused work and went into bankruptcy. Reorganized a few years later as the New Panama Canal Company, it barely managed to keep the concession and prevent the equipment from deteriorating.

At this point the Panama Canal seems to be giving the illusion of failure, but as you will see with the miraculous chain of events this ditch in the middle of Central America will be transformed into the great engineering wonder we know it to be today

Video Clip


As you saw, traveling through the canal can be quiet the experience. The canal consists of dredged approaches and three sets of sets of locks at each end. At Gatun, on the Atlantic side, the locks form continuous steps; on the Pacific, a small lake separates the middle and upper locks.

To travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a ship enters Limon Bay from the north and anchors behind a breakwater to await scheduling of its passage. When ready, the canal authorities send out a canal pilot to take the vessel through the locks. The canal employs about 240 highly trained and experienced pilots to handle the complex job of steering ships through the waterway. As soon as the pilot takes over, the ship is under canal jurisdiction.

The ship travels south-southeast about 7 miles and enters the first lock at Gatun. Line handlers at the lock attach steel mooring cables that are controlled by powerful electric locomotives, called mules. The mules guide the ship through the locks and steady it while the chambers are filled with water. In three steps the ship is raised to the level of Gatun Lake, 85ft above the sea.

The canal s 12 locks have the same dimensions: 110 ft wide by 1000 ft long. The gates at each end are 7 ft thick. Water enters and leaves each lock through a system of main culverts or pipes, which connect to 100 holes in the floor of each chamber. For each ship traveling through the canal, about 52 million gallons of fresh water are used.

At the top of the Gatun locks, the ship drops the mooring lines and proceeds under its own power for 23 miles though the lake, following the former channel of the Chagres River. The waterway gradually narrows until the river turns to the east at Gamboa, following under a bridge of the Panama Railroad. The canal s marine division, with cranes, dredges, tugs, and barges, is located at Gamboa.

South from Gamboa, the canal follows a channel dug through the mountains, which was the most difficult part of the construction project. Called Gaillard Cut, this section measures 9 miles and traverses the Continental Divide, a ridge made of rock and shale. Numerous landslides occurred both during and after construction, requiring frequent dredging to keep the canal open. The channel through the cut is 500 ft wide, the narrowest part of the canal. Originally only 300 ft, the cut was widened in phases beginning in the 1930s to allow two-way traffic. In the 1990s it was enlarged even more to accommodate larger ships.

At the southern end of Gaillard Cut, the ship slows and enters Pedro Miguel locks. Again, cables and mules guide and steady the ship before it is lowered 31ft to Miraflores Lake. The cables are released and the ship crosses the lake, which is 1.3 miles long and lies 54 ft above sea level. The ship then enters the last two locks, also named Miraflores, and is lowered to the level of the Pacific Ocean. The final stretch of the canal carries the ship to the harbor of Balboa, where the canal pilot leaves the vessel. The ship sails under the Bridge of the Americas and into the Bay of Panama, an arm of the Pacific Ocean. Northbound ships anchor in the Bay of Panama while waiting for their turn to travel through the canal to the Atlantic. The entire trip through the canal takes between 8 and 10 hours plus waiting time. The canal operates 24 hours a day year-round.

A large volume of the worlds ships, cargo, and passengers travel through the canal every year. In 1996 more than 15,000 ships, about 42 per day, made the crossing. From 1985 to 1995 the number of ships, their tonnage, and the amount of tolls collected all increased. Toll rose to $460 million in 1995, a 50 percent increase over 1985 figures. About 14,000 ships, 400,000 crewmembers, and 300,000 passengers traveled through the canal in 1995.

A wide variety of general cargo vessels and specialized ships pass through the canal. The most common are bulk carriers; and passenger liners. Many vessels naval, fishing boats, barges, dredges, floating dry-docks, and ocean-going tugs use the canal.

The Panama Canal Commission, an U.S. government agency under the Department of Defense, operates the canal. The commission was established in 1979 to manage the canal during the 20-year transition from U.S. to Panamanian control, and for the first time gave Panamanians a role in governing the canal. Until 1979, solely the U.S. government had run the canal and adjoining lands as if they were U.S. territories.

The commission manages and maintains the canal and all its related functions and equipment. Tolls and other canal fees generally pay all the costs of running and maintaining the waterway. Under treaty agreements, Panama receives an annual payment from the canal, which included a fixed fee of $10 million and a share of the tolls collected. The commission s budget is reviewed annually by the Congress of the United States.

The 1977 Panama Canal Treaties stipulated that Panamanians would gradually take over operations before 1999. The commission began programs to provide Panamanian employees with specialized training, and Panamanians formed more than 90 percent of the canal s by 1996. The government of Panama, meanwhile, created an agency to assume increasing responsibility during the transition. The canal commission promised a smooth exchange of power, with no disruption in service or safety, when Panama takes control of the canal and remaining U.S.-held lands on December 31, 1999. The treaties also guarantee the permanent neutrality of the Panama Canal, allowing ships of all nations to use it even in time of war. The United States and Panama agreed to share in defense of the canal.

In the 1830s and 1840s, while Panama was a province of Colombia, a number of European U.S. studies were conducted to determine where and how such a crossing could be built. In 1850 a New York company began construction of the Panama Railroad, along the same general route as the present-day canal. It opened to traffic five years later, carrying many gold seekers to California during the gold rush. During the rest of the 1800s, the U.S. government frequently sent in troops to protect the railroad from bandits and military threats, under the authority of a treaty signed with Colombia in 1846.

The United States had long been interested in a Central American canal, to link its east and west coasts and expand trade. However, it did not have the money or the will to build one before 1900. During the 1890s Congress appropriated money to begin work on a canal in Nicaragua, but the project was soon canceled.

The Spanish-American War in 1898 heightened military interest in a canal. After defeating Spain, the United States acquired the Philippines and Puerto Rico and wanted better access for its navy to both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. As you saw in the video clip, the canal reached a critical on Panama over Nicaragua and negotiated a treaty with Colombia. Under the agreement, the United States would obtain a strip of land across the isthmus and build a canal. But Colombia s senate rejected the treaty. Panamanians feared the United States would build a canal in Nicaragua instead, so they took matters into their own hands. A group of Panamanians conspired with agents of the French company and the Panama Railroad to rebel against Colombian rule and declared Panama independent on November 3, 1903. The United States supported the revolt and used its navy to prevent Colombia from defeating the rebels.

Just two weeks later Panama signed a treaty with the United States giving permission for the canal project. The Panamanians had authorized a long-time official of the French Canal Company, to negotiate the terms and sign the agreement. This agreement gave the United States even more than it had asked for: a perpetual lease on a section of central Panama 10 miles wide, where the canal would be built; the right to take over more Panamanian land if needed; and the right to use troops to intervene in Panama. The United States agreed to guarantee Panama s independence and pay $10 million, plus an annual fee of $250,000. In exchange for their independence, then, Panamanians were forced to accept the treaty, which no Panamanian ever signed, that virtually gave away the Canal Zone to the United States.


On December 1, 1999 the United States turned over control of the Panama Canal to the country of Panama, In fulfillment of a pledge made 22 years ago by President Carter. It was an end of a partnership between Panama and the United States that goes back to Panama s birth as an independent country in 1903. The United States has maintained military bases in the Canal Zone and employed thousands of Panamanians either directly or through services to military base personnel. While many Panamanians are happy to see the canal tuned over to their country, some are also nervous about the Americans leaving. But under the 1977 treaty, the United States still has the right to intervene if the canal s neutrality is threatened. Some politicians in the United States have questioned whether Panama will run the canal efficiently a fear the Panamanian government says is baseless.

Opponents of the canal hand-over in Congress say that such a strategic waterway should be controlled by the United States, for fear that the Panamanian government would not be equipped to run the canal efficiently. Panama s government contends that those fears are unfounded, and that they have been preparing for more than 20 years for the change. My opinion is this; we took on the challenge and know it is our duty to take responsibility for it. If the Panamanians show the inability to run the canal effectively then I feel that it is our responsibility to step in and take control of the canal. Thank you for your time and I hope that you now have a better understanding of the Panama Canal and it propose.