A canal across Central America fulfilled dreams of a short route from Atlantic to Pacific ports by allowing ships to enter the Pacific Ocean without traveling entirely around South America.
Truly one of the great engineering feats of all time, the Panama Canal was designed at the turn of the 20th century and has been operating since 1914. It is 50.72 miles long, some of it hewn from solid rock, and gives passage to all types of vessels, from huge tankers to the high tech
The United States built the canal at a cost of about $380 million. Thousands of laborers worked on it for about 10 years, using steam shovels and dredges to cut through jungles, hills and swamps. They removed 211 million cubic yards of earth and rock and had to conquer malaria and yellow fever.
The canal has three sets of water-filled chambers (locks), which raise and lower ships from one level to another. The locks were built in pairs to allow ships to pass through in both directions at the same time. The United States has controlled the Panama Canal Zone since 1903. Since December 31, 1999 control of the canal has been under Panama.