History of the Canal


“Seven years ago we began a long journey that represented the dream as well as the challenge that every entrepreneur and every person would want to have at least once in their lifetime: building a project that will change global trade," says Pietro Salini, CEO of Salini Impregilo, as he celebrated the inauguration of the new Panama Canal with the arrival of COSCO Shipping Panama. The ship sounded the horn for more than two minutes as the ribbon was cut at 7:48 a.m. of June 26 at the locks on the Atlantic coast.


The new Panama Canal comes to life: the water starts to flow in the Canal for the first stress tests.


Work began on a $5.25 billion expansion project that will enable the canal to handle post-Panamax ships; that is, those exceeding the dimensions of so-called Panamax vessels, built to fit through the canal, whose locks are 110 feet wide and 1,000 feet long. The expanded canal will be able to handle cargo vessels carrying 14,000 20-foot containers, nearly three times the amount currently accommodated. The expansion project, expected to be completed in late 2015, includes the creation of a new, larger set of locks and the widening and deepening of existing navigational channels.


The United States transferred control of the canal to Panama. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter and General Omar Torrijos of Panama signed treaties that transferred control of the canal to Panama in 1999 but gave the United States the right to use military force to defend the waterway against any threat to its neutrality. Control of the canal was transferred peacefully to Panama in December 1999, and the Panamanians have been responsible for it ever since.


August 15, 1914
Panama Canal opened to traffic when SS Ancon completes the first transit. The 50-mile-long passage created an important shortcut for ships; after the canal was constructed, a vessel sailing between New York and California was able to bypass the long journey around the tip of South America and trim nearly 8,000 miles from its voyage. The canal, which uses a system of locks to lift ships 85 feet above sea level, was the largest engineering project of its time.


Colombia, which Panama was then a part of, refused to ratify an agreement allowing the United States to build a canal, the Panamanians revolted against Colombia and declared Panama’s independence. Soon afterward, the the U.S. started building the canal, with the Canal Zone to be controlled in perpetuity by the Americans.


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.


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.