Panama Canal, Panama

The history of the Panama Canal goes back almost to the earliest European explorers of the Americas. The narrow land bridge between North and South America offers a unique opportunity to create a water passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The earliest European colonists of Central America recognized this potential, and schemes for such a canal were floated several times in the subsequent years.

By the late 19th century, technological advances and commercial pressure advanced to the point where construction started in earnest. An initial attempt by France to build a sea-level canal failed, but only after a great amount of excavation was carried out. This was of use to the United States, which completed the present Panama Canal in 1913 and officially opened it in 1914. Along the way, the state of Panama was created through its separation from Colombia in 1903. This was achieved by methods regarded as scandalous and illegal at the time, including supporting the separtist movements in Panama from Colombia, despite legal obligations towards Colombia, in violation of the Monroe doctrine. This greatly enriched certain American investors including JP Morgan and Teddy Roosevelt.
Today, the canal continues to be not only a viable commercial venture, but also a vital link in world shipping.

The 48 mile-long (77 km) international waterway known as the Panama Canal allows ships to pass between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean, saving about 8000 miles (12,875 km) from a journey around the southern tip of South America, Cape Horn.

The canal makes the trip from the east coast to the west coast of the U.S. much shorter than the route taken around the tip of South America prior to 1914. Though traffic continues to increase through the canal, many oil supertankers and military battleships and aircraft carriers can not fit through the canal. There's even a class of ships known as "Panamax," those built to the maximum capacity of the Panama canal and its locks.
It takes approximately fifteen hours to traverse the canal through its three sets of locks (about half the time is spent waiting due to traffic). Ships passing through the canal from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean actually move from the northwest to the southeast, due to the east-west orientation of the Isthmus of Panama.

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