Facts about the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal

Here are 10 quick facts about the Panama Canal:

  1. Length: 77.1 km
  2. Width: 33,5 m
  3. Depth: 26 m
  4. Completion: August 15, 1914
  5. Price: 375,000,000,000 USD (approx. 8.6 billion USD today)
  6. Engineers: John Findlay Wallace, John Frank Stevens, George Washington Goethals
  7. Explosives in construction: Approx. 27 million kg of dynamite
  8. Number of transits: 12-15,000 per year/approx. 40 per day
  9. Fastest transit: 2 hours 41 minutes, Hydrofoil Pegasus, US Navy (1979)
  10. Most expensive transit: USD 330,000 Disney Cruise (2008)
Fact: The Panama Canal connects the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean
Attribution: Brian Gratwicke – Wikipedia.org | Lyn Gateley + Jose Jiménez + Brian Gratwicke – Flickr.com

At the top is the entrance to the Panama Canal from the Pacific side; on the left is the Pacific Ocean and the Bridge of the Americas (Puente de las Americas) and on the far right the Miraflores Locks. The center images show the locks and the bottom shows a sunset over the canal


The history of the Panama Canal

  • Background: The reason for building the Panama Canal was of course to create a faster shipping route around the American continents, but also to avoid the dangerous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America
  • The French: The first attempts to build the Panama Canal were in 1881-1894, with French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps leading the work. Shortly before, he had successfully built the Suez Canal. However, the French were unable to complete the work due to a combination of tropical diseases and deaths, as well as technical, economic and political problems
  • The secession of Panama: In 1903, Panama seceded from Colombia with the support of the United States and immediately after, the two countries signed an agreement that allowed the US to build the Panama Canal. The agreement also gave the US control over the small pieces of land surrounding each end of the canal (the Panama Canal Zone)
  • Low price: The United States had also considered building a canal in Nicaragua, but decided in 1904 to purchase the French project in Panama and complete the canal there. The total purchase price was 40 million USD and included the Panama railroad, but was far below the 109 million USD that the French had offered the project for
  • Construction: The Panama Canal was built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Work began in 1904 and the canal was officially completed on August 15, 1914, when the first ship sailed through the canal
  • USA: In 1977, the parties reached an agreement for a complete handover from the US to Panama at the end of the 20th century, which became a reality in 1999


Video about the Panama Canal

Below you can watch a video about the Panama Canal, showing how ships are raised and lowered in the lock system:


More facts about the Panama Canal

  • First transit: On August 15, 1914, the cargo ship SS Ancon was the first ship ever to cross the (at the time) newly constructed Panama Canal
  • Shortcut: Ships sailing between New York and San Francisco save 12,668 kilometers thanks to the Panama Canal
  • Panama vs. Suez: 14 times more mass was removed in the construction of the Panama Canal than the Suez Canal
  • Locks: The Panama Canal works by a lock system where passing boats are gradually raised/lowered. There are currently 24 locks (12 pairs)
  • Rate: The lowest tariff ever paid to cross the Panama Canal was 0.36 dollars paid by Richard Halliburton, who swam across the canal in 1928
  • Use: The US is the country that uses the channel the most. Next are China, Japan, Chile and North Korea, respectively.
  • Human life: The total number of deaths related to the Panama Canal work is estimated to be 27,609; approximately 22,000 under French management (1881 – 1894) and 5,609 under American management (1904 – 1914). The workers were of many different races, but especially many West Indian slaves were among the victims as they performed the most dangerous tasks. Causes of death included tropical diseases, industrial accidents, handling explosives, gas leaks, mudslides and extreme exhaustion due to hard work in a very hot climate