The canal was the best thing that ever happened to Panama. The Panama Canal was started under President Roosevelt and completed by his successor, William Howard Taft. The canal was built across an isthmus, a narrow body of land that connects two larger land areas, which connects North and South America. In some places in Panama the isthmus is only 50 miles across. The French started the canal in the late 1800’s. They had just built the then famous Suez Canal with relative ease.
The Suez Canal, unlike the Panama Canal, was a straight canal on level ground, in a relatively dry climate. The French had failed in building the Panama Canal because of the tropical climate, in which deadly tropical diseases consumed their workers, and because of the mountain range in which they could not cut through. He had planned to build the canal in the way of the Suez Canal, straight and sea level. You can see the trouble with trying to cut out that much land, through the mountain range, making it at sea level.
The Americans tried their hand in the early 1900’s. Three main people helped made the canal a success. Teddy Roosevelt was one of those people; he saw the military importance of a canal. He called for the cruiser, Oregon, to sail around South America from San Francisco to Cuba so it could be present in the battle at Santiago Bay. The entire journey took ten weeks. He was the driving force in getting the permission to build the canal because he realized the importance of having a “shortcut” through the isthmus, bypassing sailing around South America.
A trip from San Francisco to New York via Cape Horn is 15,200 miles, but going through the isthmus is only 6,100 miles. The second person was Colonel William Gorgas, who was chosen to stamp out the deadly tropical diseases. The third was the great engineer, Colonel George Goethals, who was charged with cutting through the treacherous mountain range. Instead of cutting straight though the land, he devised building lochs, in which the boats would be raised gradually.
Back then the land in which the canal was to be built was owned by Columbia. Theodore Roosevelt asked the Columbians for permission to build the canal, but they refused. People living on the isthmus were dissenting from the Columbian government and eventually revolted and set up the independent Republic of Panama. “It was Roosevelt who took the isthmus,” regardless of the niceties of international law and Congressional debate.” – The Good Neighbor: Teddy’s Big Ditch, Building the Canal. When the Panamanians revolted Teddy saw this as the perfect investment to get the canal underway. He supported the Panamanians and sent warships to stop any help from the Columbian government to put down the rebellion. The Panamanians declared their independence and were very grateful towards the Americans. The Americans leased a strip of land, called the Panama Canal Zone, for $10,000,000. The land was forty-five miles long and ten miles wide and the American’s paid a $430,000 rent every year. In 1904, they agreed to let the United States build the canal, which was continued on the old French canal.
The canal cost a little more than $395,000,000 and was considered the “…greatest man-made waterway…” – Our American Neighbors: Panama, Crossroads of the World. The canal has been a great source of revenue for the U.S. and Panama. Each ship that passes through the canal pays by the ton of cargo it has. The larger ships that pass through the canal pay from $15,000 to $20,000. The 52,000 American and Panamanians that lived in the Panama Canal Zone were employed in some way to the canal. It provided jobs for many people. The U.S. government has built and maintained homes, libraries, hospitals, clubs, and schools in the Canal Zone. Because of the canal Panama has been become known to the world as “the crossroads of the world.” Panama has become a very diverse country, with peoples ranging from Japanese, Chinese, West Indies, Frenchmen, Italians, Turks, Americans, and Panamanians.
Much of the population realizes the American importance in Panama and the benefits that they have brought to Panama. About 71 percent of the population of Panama said that the American bases were healthy for the country, and 8 out of 10 people said that the American bases should have stayed. Because of the Americans and the canal the Panamanians have a standardized currency, the dollar. The canal has brought good American schools and Americans in the Canal Zone “inject” about $300 million into the local economy every year, that’s the country’s third largest source of income.
The Panama Canal and the Americans that it brought was the best thing to happen to Panama. It brought diversity to the country as well as many good American institutions, such as school, libraries, and hospitals. It brought good education to the country as well as a standardized currency. The Canal Zone employed many of the residents and the Americans living there put in $300 million a year into the economy. The canal itself is a good source of income to the Panamanians; when the Americans paid the rent when they were there and now, from ships paying fees. Overall, the Panamanians greatly benefited from the canal as a people and as a country.