Panama Canal

The Panama Canal

A schematic of the Panama Canal, illustrating the sequence of locks and passages
Original owner La Société internationale du Canal
Principal engineer John Findlay Wallace, John Frank Stevens (1906–1908), George Washington Goethals
Date of first use on August 15, 1914
Locks 3 locks up, 3 down per transit; all two lanes

(2 lanes of locks; locks built in three sites)

Status Open, extension in process
Navigation authority Panama Canal Authority



Location of Panama between Pacific (bottom) and Caribbean (top), with canal at top center


The Panama Canal (Spanish: Canal de Panamá) is a 77.1-kilometre (48 mi) ship canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, 26 metres (85 ft) above sea level. Gatun Lake was created to reduce the amount of work required for the canal. The current locks are 33.5 metres (110 ft) wide. A third, wider lane of locks is currently under construction and is due to open in 2015.

France began work on the canal in 1881, but had to stop because of engineering problems and high mortality due to disease. The United States (US) later took over the project and took a decade to complete the canal in 1914, enabling ships to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America (via the Drake Passage) or to navigate the Strait of Magellan.

14 August 1914

 Panama Canal, started in 1881 by the French is completed by the U.S. 

 One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut made it possible for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in half the time previously required. The shorter, faster, safer route to the US West Coast and to nations in and along the Pacific Ocean allowed those places to become more integrated with the world economy.

During this time, ownership of the territory that is now the Panama Canal was first Colombian, then French, and then American; the United States completed the construction. The canal was taken over in 1999 by the Panamanian government, as long planned. Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships when the canal opened in 1914, to 14,702 vessels in 2008, the latter measuring a total of 309.6 million Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons. By 2008, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through the canal, many of them much larger than the original planners could have envisioned; the largest ships that can transit the canal today are called Panamax. The American Society of Civil Engineers has named the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world.



In 1881, the first attempt to construct a sea-level canal began under the leadership of Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal, with substantial financing and support from Paris. The French effort went bankrupt after losing an estimated 22,000 lives and reportedly spending US $287,000,000, and was largely abandoned by 1890.