This Week in HistoryThis Week in History: Week 33 (15 August 1914)

The Panama Canal Is Opened

The Panama Canal is officially opened after 10 years of construction.

In 1914, the Panama Canal was officially opened. The canal links the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, allowing ships to sail from one ocean to the other without having to go around South America. The canal's construction was financed and supervised by the U.S. government and took 10 years to complete. Over 70,000 people worked on the project, $400 million was spent, and 5,600 deaths were recorded, most caused by malaria or yellow fever. The U.S. government controlled the canal until a treaty allowing Panama to gradually assume control was signed in 1977.

canal (noun): a man-made channel of water on which boats/ships can travel
construction (noun): the building or making of something
finance (verb): help pay for; support with money
supervise (verb): watch over
malaria (noun): a deadly disease that is spread by mosquitos
treaty (noun): a written agreement (usually between countries)

Transcript: When asked about his plans for Panama in 1904, an ebullient [U.S. President] Teddy Roosevelt declared: "I'm going to make the dirt fly". But first, he sent an army doctor Colonel William Gorgas to eliminate the yellow fever epidemics that had doomed earlier French efforts. Gorgas declared war on the local mosquitoes and within a year the yellow fever threat was gone. Then, workers under the command of Colonel George Washington Goethals blasted and dug their way through the Cordillera Mountains, carving a nine-mile long canyon called the Culebra Cut. For over six years, the giant steam shovels dug without pause, filling a railroad car every eight minutes. The trains rolled as far north as the mouth of the Chagres River where their loads were used to build the gigantic earthen Gatun Dam. Locks big enough to lift battleships were built at the Atlantic and Pacific ends of the canal. Finally, on June 27th 1913, the dam was closed and the largest manmade lake in history filled, flowing into the Culebra Cut, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by a slender, but navigable thread.

Mini Quiz

1. After being built, the Panama Canal was controlled by the U.S. government for
a) ten years
b) around fifty years
c) more than sixty years

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2. Most of the 5,600 deaths recorded during the canal's construction were the result of
a) accidents
b) illness
c) overwork

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3. A formal agreement between two or more countries, signed by each country's leader or representative, is called
a) a construction
b) a control
c) a treaty

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Contributor: Matt Errey creator of Word Up