Nonetheless, the canal has remained vital to American national identity, partly because it is considered to embody that benevolent self-image. On August 15, 1914, the SS Ancon was the first ship to transit the Panama Canal. Image courtesy of Getty Images The PBS NewsHour: What did it take to build the Panama Canal?
But more than that, the canal represents American ingenuity and hard work conquering nature for the benefit of all. As one historian has written, "The Panama Canal has become a symbol of the power of progress and of America's ability to meet any challenge."
It's no wonder, then, that on January 26, 2015, after almost 80 years of being open for business, the Panama Canal finally closed its doors for the last time. The opening and closing ceremonies were held on February 14 and July 10, 2015, respectively.
The channel crossing from Atlantic to Pacific, which used to take months or even years, now takes only five days. This allows ships to avoid the summertime hurricane season in the Atlantic and reduce fuel consumption by half. It's also responsible for the fact that today's world trade routes are mostly in North America and Europe!
In addition to being important for shipping, the canal also has significant political implications. For example, it provides US troops with a quick route into Latin America if they are ever called upon to intervene there.
Ancon SS The SS Ancon was an American freight and passenger ship that was the first to officially cross the Panama Canal in 1914, however the French crane boat Alexandre La Valley made the first journey in stages prior to the official inauguration. The name Ancon is Spanish for "anchor."
The canal's official history says that the crossing by the SS Ancon was "the occasion for a great celebration" because it marked "the end of the isolation of Panama" and brought much-needed prosperity to the country. But there had been attempts to connect North and South America long before, including one by a French explorer in 1605. What made this crossing special was not only that it was the first but also that it was done by an American ship.
The canal itself was originally built by the United States under the terms of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty with Colombia in 1881-1889. But when Colombia stopped building its part of the canal, the U.S. continued alone. The goal was to create a waterway through which ships could travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean without having to go around Cape Horn at the tip of South America. The canal is 469 miles long and at its widest point is 24 feet across. It has 29 locks, some as high as 47 feet, which provide the mechanical advantage needed to lift boats up such steep banks.
According to extant data, the SS Ancon was the first ship to transit the Panama Canal. The Boston Steam Ship Company owned her as an American-flag freight and passenger ship. She had a length of about 150 meters, a beam of about 18 meters, a gross registered tonnage of around 9600 GRT, and a draft of about 8.8 meters. The ship was operated by the company from 1903 to 1920 when she was replaced by larger vessels. In 1921, the U.S. Navy acquired her for use as a training vessel.
The ship's captain, Franklin Sousley, made the transit on April 3, 1919. He reported good conditions for shipping through the canal.
The canal's official opening was on August 15, 1914. But because it took time to build the canal, its opening was delayed until ships could pass through safely. This was not possible during World War I, so the canal opened with limited traffic capacity.
After the war, the ship canal became important for trade between the United States and Central America. The SS Ancon was designed for cargo transport but also ran regular trips between New York and Havana, Cuba. In addition, she made several voyages each year to Mexico with farm products imported for European consumption. In November 1920, the SS Ancon collided with another ship in the canal; three people were killed.
What was the major benefit of constructing the Panama Canal? It shortened transit time between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in half. A ship can now sail from Europe to Asia without having to go around Africa, which is why it became known as the "Pan-American Canal."
It also allowed trade to flourish between these two important markets. Before its construction, only cargo ships could travel this route because of the difficulty of sailing up the Amazon River. But after the canal opened up this area of South America for trade, passenger ships started using it as well. In fact, the first cruise line in the United States was founded by some investors who were looking to make money off of shipping containers!
This short cut made by Panamá really helped countries like Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela become more economically powerful. Before its construction, people used to say that these countries would always be poor because they are too far away from the United States and Europe to economically compete. But once the canal opened up these regions for business, their economies began to grow stronger due to increased traffic.
Another advantage of the canal is that it provides security in today's world of dangerous drugs and illegal arms trafficking.
The Panama Canal is a 48-mile canal that links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in Panama. The canal spans the Panama Strait and serves as a vital conduit for international trade. It was tried by the French initially, but was completed by the United States at a cost of 375 million dollars. Its construction started in August 1904 and it was opened on July 17, 1914.
As far back as 1513, Spanish explorers had proposed building a waterway across Central America to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The idea came up again in 1668 when a Spanish priest named Fray Buenaventura de San Miguel del Puerto suggested that a channel be built from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean to make travel between the two sides of the continent easier. In 1717, the first official account of the project was published by a British expedition led by David Thompson. The report mentioned that there were gold deposits in Central America that could finance the effort.
In 1823, Panamanian cacao plantations generated enough revenue to pay for canal repairs. By 1855, the canal was back in operation after getting damaged in a hurricane. In 1903, France submitted a bid for the right to build the canal; however, American engineers won out due to their experience with large-scale projects like the Brooklyn Bridge. Work on the canal began in earnest in April 1904 and was completed seven years later at a cost of $375 million ($5 billion in today's money).