The Fantastical Panama Canal

Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

IC_MEIS_PANAMA_AP_001Boats traversing the Panama Canal look strange and out of place, like mirages or optical illusions. That’s because the Canal — especially at places like the Culebra Cut — goes right through what would otherwise be continuous land. The Canal is, in essence, a trench. It was dug right across the width of Panama in order to connect two oceans: Pacific and Atlantic. Ships going through the Panama Canal, therefore, are strange-goers, undertaking a journey that would be fantastical but for feats of engineering that still boggle the mind.

268,000,000 cubic yards of earthy stuff was moved to create the Panama Canal. Something like 27,000 people died from accidents and disease during construction. (The French, who started the project, did not keep accurate death records). A three-mile-long peninsula jutting out into the Pacific Ocean was created with material dug from the Canal. There are 46 gates along the Panama Canal, each of them weighing between 354 and 662 tons. 101,000 cubic meters of water are needed to fill a Panama Canal lock chamber. An average of 52 million gallons of fresh water are used in each transit.

These are just some of the raw numbers that tell the tale of the Panama Canal. Building the Canal took about 35 years. The French began the project in 1881. But there were so many problems (human and mechanical) that the project was abandoned. In 1904, the Americans took over the task. The Panama Canal was officially opened on August 15, 1914. One hundred years ago.

More here.