7 Fascinating Facts About the Panama Canalby Admin | October 23, 2023
- The idea for a canal across Panama dates back to the 16th century. In 1513, Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa became the first European to discover that the Isthmus of Panama was just a slim land bridge separating the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Balboa’s discovery sparked a search for a natural waterway linking the two oceans. In 1534, after no such passage across the isthmus had been found, Charles V, the Holy Roman emperor, ordered a survey to determine if one could be built, but the surveyors eventually decided that construction of a ship canal was impossible.
- The men behind the Suez Canal and Eiffel Tower were convicted in connection with failed effort to build a canal. In the ensuing centuries, various nations considered developing a Panamanian canal but a serious attempt wasn’t made until the 1880s. In 1881, a French company headed by Ferdinand de Lesseps, a former diplomat who developed Egypt’s Suez Canal, began digging a canal across Panama. The project was plagued by poor planning, engineering problems and tropical diseases that killed thousands of workers. De Lesseps intended to build the canal at sea level, without locks, like the Suez Canal, but the excavation process proved far more difficult than anticipated. Gustave Eiffel, who designed the famous tower in Paris that bears his name, was then hired to create locks for the canal; however, the De Lesseps-led company went bankrupt in 1889. At the time, the French had sunk more than $260 million into the canal venture and excavated more than 70 million cubic yards of earth.
The canal venture’s collapse caused a major scandal in France. De Lesseps and his son Charles, along with Eiffel and several other company executives, were indicted on fraud and mismanagement charges. In 1893, the men were found guilty, sentenced to prison and fined, although the sentences were overturned. After the scandal, Eiffel retired from business and devoted himself to scientific research; Ferdinand de Lesseps died in 1894. That same year, a new French company was formed to take over the assets of the bankrupt business and continue the canal; however, this second firm soon abandoned the endeavor as well.