A new year – a new beginning

January has always been the time the sisters take off to warmer climates. However, last year we deviated from our main intentions and headed to the coldest, windiest, highest continent (Antarctica). So this year, we are back to a warm adventure. We are heading south to Florida, hop on a cruise ship heading even farther south into the Panama Canal. Both of us have been studying about the construction of this famous channel. So let us share a bit with you now.

  • Early European colonists of Central America recognized that the narrow land bridge (The Isthmus of Panama) offered a unique opportunity to create a water passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in order to avoid the treacherous travels around Cape Horn, South America.
  • In 1819 the Spanish government authorized the construction of a canal and the creation of a company to build it. The project stalled for some time.
  • After the successful completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, the French were inspired to tackle the project abandoned by the Spanish.
  • Construction of the canal began on January 1, 1882. However, difficulties arose. The mountainous spine of Central America, raging rivers, floods, mudslides, tropical disease and lack of engineering expertise created insurmountable obstacles.
  • Although the French effort was to a large extent doomed to failure from the beginning, its work was, nevertheless, not entirely wasted. The work that had been done to this point was unimpressive in terms of actual construction, but in terms of preparation, essential.
  • Theodore Roosevelt, who became president of the United States in 1901, believed that a US-controlled canal across Central America was vital. The United States formally took control of the French property on May 4, 1904.
  • In November 1906, Roosevelt visited Panama to inspect the canal’s progress. This was the first trip outside the United States by a sitting President.
  • On January 7, 1914, the Alexandre La Valley, an old French crane boat, became the first ship to make a complete transit of the Panama Canal under its own steam.
  • When the canal opened, it was a technological marvel and an important strategic and economic asset to the United States. This new transit revolutionized world shipping patterns.

In 2006 a new plan was established to create a third lane of locks that will double the capacity of the canals to allow more transits and bigger ships. Work began 2007 and estimated to be completed for the 100th Anniversary in 2014.