The Panama Canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans opened on this date in 1914 but planning for it began decades before.  It was the discovery of gold in California and Oregon that was the original reason for building a quick water route from one side of the country to the other.  Panama was the narrowest section of Central America and to begin with the United States built a railroad to move goods and supplies from one side to the other.  That was way back in 1855.

There were all kinds of plans and ideas for building the canal.  There were plenty of problems too – poor planning, funding, disease among the workers.  The same company that built the Suez Canal was hired but went bankrupt.  The United States finally took over and came up with the money.  By then it was more than gold.  The U-S needed a quick route to move its navy from one ocean to the other.

The U-S spent $400-million dollars on the project.  It took five years to build and was one of the largest construction projects of all time.

For exclusive and permanent use of the Panama Canal, the U-S gave Panama $10-million and annual payments of $250-thousand.  In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed a treaty to turn over operation of the canal to Panama by the end of the century.  The transfer happened on December 31st, 1999.

SOURCE: History Channel


Here's a time lapse video of a typical day at the Panama Canal