Gold Seekers of '49 - Edwin Sabin

The Panama Canal

1513—September 25, the young Spanish navigator Vasco Nunez de Balboa and party, from the Atlantic, exploring afoot the Isthmus of Panama (first called the Isthmus of Darien), on the mountain divide sight the Pacific Ocean. This they reach and claim for the King of Spain. They were the first white men to cross the Isthmus, and they discovered the Pacific Ocean.

1516—Balboa again crosses the Isthmus, transporting the material for four ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Two thousand native Indians die by the hard labor of jungle travel.

1520-1529—Various other explorations are made by Spain, in hopes of finding a water-way clear through the Isthmus.

1521—Charles the Fifth of Spain orders a Royal Road constructed across the Isthmus between Nombre de Dios on the Atlantic side and Panama on the Pacific side. It crossed the Chagres River at Las Cruces.

1530—Vessels begin to navigate the Chagres up to Gorgona and Cruces, and there connect with the Royal Road from Panama.

1534—The Spanish authorities of this New Spain undertake a survey of the Isthmus, in order to construct a water-way from ocean to ocean. The project fails.

1535-1814—Nothing more has been accomplished toward bettering communication across the Isthmus, although a water route by way of Lake Nicaragua has been much discussed.

1814—Spain authorizes the construction of a canal through the Isthmus, but by a revolution loses her Central America provinces.

1825—The Republic of Central America requests the assistance of the United States in the construction of a canal through Nicaragua.

1826—Aaron H. Palmer, of New York, contracts with the Republic of Central America for the construction of a canal across Nicaragua. This project also fails, and so does an English plan.

1827—President Bolivar of the Republic of Colombia (formed by the States of New Granada, Ecuador and Venezuela, and thus embracing the Isthmus) commissions J. A. Lloyd to survey the Isthmus with a view to a rail-and-water route across. Lloyd recommends a canal from Limon Bay to the Chagres River (as now), the river route as far on as possible, and a railroad thence to the Pacific coast.

1835-1841—The United States further debates the subject of a ship canal across the Isthmus or up through Nicaragua. Commissioners report in favor of the Nicaragua route.

1838—A French company obtains from New Granada a concession to open a route by land or water across the Isthmus. Although many surveys are made, and a canal from Limon Bay to the vicinity of Panama is mapped out, no actual construction work is done.

1847—The Republic of New Granada grants the right to a French syndicate to build a railroad across the Isthmus. The right expired in 1848.

1848—Spurred on by the acquisition of California, the United States secures from New Granada the right of passage across the Isthmus.

1849—The United States secures from Nicaragua the right to construct communication of any sort between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

1840—The American, Atlantic and Pacific Ship Canal Company, headed by Cornelius Vanderbilt, is formed, to build across Nicaragua. The company makes fresh surveys of value, but does no construction work, and in 1856 its concession is recalled by Nicaragua.

1849—The Panama Railroad Company is formed by John Lloyd Stevens, William Henry Aspinwall and Henry Chauncy of New York, to build across the Isthmus. Work is started.

1855—After tremendous labor in the jungles and swamps, and the loss of thousands of lives, the railroad is finished. On January 27, 1855, the first locomotive crosses from ocean to ocean. Reconstructed to conform to the canal, the railroad is in operation to-day.

1866—The United States Senate requests the Secretary of the Navy to supply it with all available information upon the feasibility of a canal across the Isthmus.

1867—Nineteen canal and seven railroad projects for the Isthmus region are submitted in the report to the Senate. The report recommends that a route be found through Panama.

1869—President Grant recommends to Congress the building of an American canal across the Isthmus. Resolutions are adopted.

1872—An Interoceanic Canal Commission authorized by Congress begins various surveys throughout the Isthmus country. Its final report (1876) unanimously recommends the route through Nicaragua, instead of through Panama.

1875—France forms a company to secure from the Republic of Colombia, which again controls the Isthmus, the rights to build a canal across, and to operate it for ninety-nine years. Lieutenant Lucien B. Wyse of the French Navy makes a survey and a report.

1879—An International Congress of 135 delegates, eleven being from the United States, is held at Paris, to discuss the route for a canal. Ferdinand de Lesseps, French engineer who had built the Suez Canal, presides. The route selected is that through Panama, between Colon and Panama. The Universal Company of the Panama Interoceanic Canal is incorporated. De Lesseps is made chief engineer. He calculates that the canal can be built in eight years, at a cost of $127,000,000. Shares in the company are widely sold.

1881—Work on the French canal is started.

1892—The French company has already spent eight years and $260,000,000, and has accomplished little actual headway. An enormous amount of money has been wasted. The company is declared insolvent and a receiver is appointed by the French court.

1894—The company is reorganized as the New Panama Canal Company. In five years it expends $8,000,000, in work on about two-fifths of the canal.

1899—By authority of Congress President McKinley appoints an Isthmian Canal Commission to investigate the property of the French company and see by what methods it can be purchased. The commission in its report recommends a route up through Nicaragua. Estimates are made that $102,000,000 and ten years' work will be required.

1901—The question of a Panama canal or a Nicaragua canal is debated in Congress. Expert opinion from engineers and shipping interests favors the Panama route.

1902—By authorizing the purchase of the French company's property and franchises for $40,000,000 the United States declares its purpose to build a Panama canal itself. The Secretary of War is instructed to make plans upon an expense basis not to exceed $130,000,000.

1903-1904—The United States formally takes over the French rights and concludes a canal treaty with Panama, the canal to be completed in fourteen years.

1904—The Canal Commission appointed by the President and under supervision of the Secretary of War, William H. Taft, arrives on the Isthmus to pursue the building of the canal. John F. Wallace is engineer-in-chief. The commission decides on a lock canal, instead of a sea-level canal as originally planned.

1905—John F. Stevens succeeds Mr. Wallace as chief engineer.

1906—The foreign members of an International Board of Consulting Engineers which visits the canal at the invitation of the United States report in favor of a sea-level canal; American members, in the minority, report in favor of the lock canal.

1906—In his message to Congress President Roosevelt supports the minority report favoring the lock canal. Congress adopts the minority report.

1907—Engineer Stevens resigns. The canal work is placed under the direction of the War Department. Lieutenant-Colonel George W. Goethals, Corps of Engineers, U. S. A., is made engineer-in-chief. He estimates the cost of a lock canal at $375,000,000; of a sea-level canal, $563,000,000.

1913—October 10 (the anniversary of the day upon which Balboa took possession of the Pacific Ocean) the Gamboa dike, marking the division between the canal waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific, is blown open when President Wilson presses an electric button at the White House. This year a mud scow passes through the canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

1914—January 7, the steam crane boat Alexander la Valley, 1200 tons, makes the passage—the first vessel by steam. February 1 the ocean tug Reliance, Captain R. C. Thompson, having steamed around the Horn returns to the Atlantic through the canal—the first commercial vessel to pass.

1914—The annual report of Colonel Goethals states that the cost of constructing the canal to date, has been $353,559,049, including fortifications.

1915—The great canal is formally opened. Including the $40,000,000 paid to France, and the $10,000,000 paid to the Republic of Panama, the outlay represented by the canal as built by the United States totals about $400,000,000, of which not a cent was misused.