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The Seventh Manmade Wonder of the World

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The Seventh Manmade Wonder of the World
Ellis Karla D.
History

The Seventh Manmade Wonder of the World.

The building of the Panama Canal was one of the most grandiose and dramatic American ventures of all times. A shipping gateway between Central and South America had been a desire from the 1600’s, first attempted by the French in the 1880s and later completed by United States in 1914, under the direction of Theodore Roosevelt. U.S. intervention with the Panama Canal brought an end of a revolution and the birth of a new nation, the Republic of Panama, and creation of one of biggest strategic advantages that truly brought the U.S. Navy into the next century as a growing superpower. The canal was the largest and most expensive project ever attempted up to that date in U.S. history and easily changed the face of the western hemisphere, if not the world. A quick, easy and safe passage for merchant ships and navies to pass between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans had been a desire of many since early 17th century. Study after study was conducted and focused on Panama, which was a part of Colombia; Nicaragua and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico. Regardless of the desire or need, early plans were often abandoned because the undertaking was near impossible and government politics often made negotiations more difficult. The French were the first nation to attempt the project and were confident of success after building the Suez Canal in Egypt. In 1876, the Interoceanic Canal Commission was created to head up the project and placed in the hands of Ferdinand Lesseps. It took two years of negotiations before Colombia finally allowed them to start digging in their Panamanian territory. Although Ferdinand Lesseps was in charge of the difficult project, he wasn’t an engineer. He had earned his reputation with the timely completion of the Suez Canal, but the environment was completely different. The area around the Suez Canal was dry and flat, a stark difference from the humid and mountainous contours of the land chosen for the construction of the canal in Panama. To make matters worse, the land was covered by an almost impenetrable rainforest; the ground was a volcanic core and the two most notorious killers, malaria and yellow fever. According to Denison Kitchel “Lesseps raised 275 million dollars through public subscriptions all over the world on the strength of his reputation and his zeal for the project” (36). During the first year they obtained the best equipment and technology with the highest of standards for the time. He also recruited hundreds of skilled laborers from France and other parts of the world and ensured they had the best support facilities like hospitals, dispensaries, convalescent homes, and structures of all kinds that could add to the comfort and convenience of his employees. By the second year, everything started to fall apart, as many people were dying from yellow fever and malaria from the almost invisible mosquito enemy. They lacked even the simplest protection such as insect screens and were plagued by sanitation issues. Health wasn’t the only problem, excavation efforts were constantly destroyed by constant torrential rains which eroded the dig sites, filling in the excavated area and burying equipment and personnel. It is unknown how many people were buried during the construction as accurate records were never kept of workers and often times the slides were so violent and quick that people were buried unnoticed. Lesseps was not prepared for these problems and stubbornly resisted the urging by others to change the construction into a lock style canal, which would not require digging completely across the isthmus. Ultimately the continued failures, mainly due to Lesseps his lack of engineering expertise, the project failed after he had shown no real progress in 8 years. As a result, nearly a million shareholders lost their investments. The loss was so great that French prosecutors tried to bring Lesseps back for trial in what many considered the greatest fraud in modern times. Where the French found failure, the U.S. saw opportunity in the value of the canal across Central America. Although the U.S. claimed that the canal would serve commercial interests, many believed the goal was motivated by an interest in naval superiority, which even at that time equated true military power. According to Constitutional Rights Foundation, “In 1890, Alfred Thayer Mahan member of U.S Navy War College, wrote about the influence of sea power upon History, which argued that national greatness depend on supremacy in all oceans”(1). U.S. interest truly increased in 1901, when Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as President, following the assassination of President William McKinley. Roosevelt agreed with Mahan, and believed that the canal was of great strategic importance in gaining the naval advantage the U.S. needed. He quickly declared his support for an isthmus canal. A commission initiated earlier by McKinley recommended a route across Nicaragua. Meanwhile the Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a chief engineer of the French’s effort with the Panama Canal told President Roosevelt that his company would sell their land rights, all excavation and railroad equipment along the proposed Panama Canal route for forty million dollars. Bunau-Varilla followed up his sales pitch by convincing Roosevelt that building in Nicaragua would be dangerous due to the heavy volcanic activity. Roosevelt did not pass the opportunity and bought all the rights. After the United State bought the rights from the French, in 1903 they started negotiations with Colombia, which sought to grant rights for the construction and operation of the canal for 100 years. Unfortunately, the Colombian senate refused to ratify the treaty. Bunau-Varilla, refusing to accept defeat, informed Roosevelt about an emerging revolution from individuals who sought independence from Colombia in the Canal area. Roosevelt, not a stranger to combat, promised the Panamanian rebels that he would send the U.S. Navy to assist in their goals for independence if they agreed to grant them rights to the proposed canal area. Given that there was no land route between the Colombian mainland and the isthmus of Panama, the mere presence of the U.S. Navy on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides of Panama made it impossible for the Colombians to dispatch troops to quell the revolutionaries. Colombia was left with no choice but to concede and Panama became an independent nation. In appreciation for U.S. assistance, the new Republic of Panama granted the U.S. control of the Panama Canal Zone on February 23, 1904. Instead of ignoring the French failures, the U.S. leadership decided to attack the problems in the area directly. They started by focusing initial attention on the eradication of mosquitoes and the threat of yellow fever and malaria. They dispatched an Army physician by the name of William C. Gorgas and giving him all the supplies he needed. In nearly one year, Gorgas was successful in virtually eradicating the mosquito threat in the Canal Zone. Gorgas also had the forethought to insist that all buildings and housing units employ mosquito nets. Engineering, however was still a difficult venture. The Canal project burned out two Chief Engineers in the first years. One was John Stevens, who eventually was brought in as the Chief Engineer, concluded that digging at sea level, as the French had, was impossible and proposed a plan to create a system of locks. Steven quit in 1907 because the project was too exhausting. Roosevelt grew tired of the turnover and picked his next Chief Engineer from within the ranks of the Army’s Corp of Engineers, for the simple fact that the officer would be required to stay on duty until relieved by the “Commander-in-Chief”. The man that he chose was Major Washington Goethals. Major Goethals, as a benefit of his position, received a bump up in salary for his new assignment that wasn’t a easy task, as he directed a work force of up to 50,000 laborers. The work force was comprised a small group of white Americans administrators and Engineers and the majority of the labor and service support were blacks brought in from the Caribbean Island of Barbados who freely accepted the dangerous job for the opportunity to escape their impoverished life. Instead of the reliance of current technology, the U.S. ensured that excavation equipment was designed for the specific complexities of the canal. The engineering behind the Panama Canal first involved the construction of dam at the Chagres River, which created Gatun Lake and was later dredged for use as a shipping channel. The equipment alone was a marvel because they were far larger than any other in the world. Next they built a harbor in the area of Cristobal, on the Atlantic side, and then dredged a sea level channel from the harbor to the dam. After that, they needed to build a set of locks on the Gatun side to raise and lower ships from sea level to the lake. Then they excavated a giant ditch across eight miles of the International Divide known as Culebra cut and later named the Guillard cut. They also needed to build locks at Miraflores to raise and lower ships to a dredged channel leading to Balboa Harbor on the Pacific side. Because of all the necessary dredging, they moved the dirt to a landfill and created new land areas. As a last step, they relocated the Panama Railroad to follow the new route. The work accomplished by Goethals and his men was the greatest manmade project ever accomplished at that time. The Grand opening of the canal took place on August 15, 1914, during the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The U.S cargo ship “Ancon” made the first official transit of the Canal, which was a show to the world that the Panamanians and Americans were able to accomplish what had long since been believed to be impossible. Unfortunately, the unveiling was out shadowed by the start of World War 1, just 12 days before, which drew all global attention toward Europe. This project, championed by Theodore Roosevelt, was completed 6 months ahead of schedule and cost $352 million. Although it was a success, more than 5,000 died through disease or accidents and most of the casualties were the black laborers from Barbados. Since opening, the canal has served as the bridge to the world and used by many businesses and countries around the world. For Americans, the area served as a vital strategic point for the U.S. Navy. On September 7, 1977, President Jimmy Carter agreed to repeal and change the Hay-Bunau Varilla treaty which gave the U.S. unending rights to the canal. The new treaty signed by the President Carter and Panamanian General Omar Torrijos-Herrera curtailed the rights. The first treaty was commonly referred to as The Neutrality Treaty. Under this treaty, the U.S. retained the permanent right to defend the canal from any threat that might interfere with its continued neutral service to ships of all nations. The Second treaty, named the Panama Canal Treaty, ensured that the Panamanian government would assume full control of operations and become primarily responsible for its defense after the year 2000. On 16 March, 1978, the first treaty was ratified by the United State Senate and the second treaty on April 18 of the same year. As the treaty dictated, the canal was handed over to the Panamanian government on December 31, 1999, after nearly 100 years of control. The turnover brought happiness for some and preoccupation for others, as some considered U.S. occupation a trespass and others wanted it to continue. Since that time, the Canal has been in Panamanian administration and each year more than 14,000 ships pass through the canal, carrying more than 203 million tons of cargo, and still seen as one of the seven manmade of the world. It is a constant symbol of American vision and ingenuity which allowed them to adapt and overcome what had previously been considered impossible.

Work cited
Kitchen, Denison. The Truth About the Panama Canal. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House Publishers, 1978.
McCullough, David. The Path Between The Seas The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.
Ryan, Paul B. The Panama Canal Controversy. Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1977. http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-inaction/bria-21-2-bhtml. http://www.panama1.com/panamacanal.php.
http://www.wordig.com/definitionstorrijocartertreaties.…...

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