On Friday the Panama Canal celebrated the 100th anniversary of its official opening and a strong American presence into imperialism.
France in the late 1800s had started work on the canal. But the multimillion-dollar effort was plagued with disease and failure.
Congress in 1902 approved the purchase of the French assets. But the proposed canal then was part of Colombia, and that country balked at the U.S. involvement.
Backed by then-President Teddy Roosevelt, Panamanians revolted declaring their independence. A new government was established, giving the United States control over the Canal Zone for the unprecedented construction project.
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The History Channel reports that between the French and U.S. efforts, more than 25,000 workers died in the construction of the Panama Canal because of accidents, yellow fever and malaria. But the 50-mile-long waterway with locks across the Isthmus of Panama opened 100 years ago, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and creating a faster, shorter passage between New York and California.
It was an engineering marvel. In 1977, then-President Jimmy Carter signed treaties transferring the canal back to Panama in 1999.
Efforts have been underway since to expand the canal so that today’s larger ships can use the waterway. The expansion will enable the canal to handle cargo vessels that are nearly three times the size of today’s canal.