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Panama Canal Turns 90

Date: 16-AUG-2004

August 15, 1914 Marked the Realization of a Dream Held for Four Centuries

Four Years of Panamanian Stewardship Brings Increased Reliablity


SS AnconPANAMA CITY, Panama, August 16, 2004 - A dream held for more than four centuries became a reality August 15, 1914, when the SS Ancon made history as the first vessel to cross the Isthmus of Panama. The vessel traveled from the Atlantic entrance of the Canal at the Port of Cristobal at 7:10 a.m. through the fifty mile stretch of the waterway to the Port of Balboa, located at the Pacific Ocean entrance. “So quietly did she pursue her way that … a strange observer coming suddenly upon the scene would have thought that the Canal had always been in operation, and that the Ancon was only doing what thousands of other vessels must have done before her,” wrote John Barrett in The Opening of the Panama Canal (published in the Bulletin of the Pan-American Union) of a passenger on board the vessel.

Yesterday, the Panama Canal celebrated its 90th anniversary. Since that momentous day in August of 1914, the Canal has continued to play a critical role in global trade. The importance of the Canal continues to grow - the All-Water Route (from Asia to the East Coast of the United States and back) is considered vital and one of the fastest-growing trade routes.

Canal historian Ira Bennett, as quoted in David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas, wrote, “Strongly as the Panama Canal appeals to the imagination as the carrying out of an ideal, it is above all things a practical, mechanical and industrial achievement.” The Canal set the standard and was the “world’s first” of a great many things: the world’s largest dam, the world’s greatest man-made lake and the world’s highest locks.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be part of the Panama Canal; its construction is one of the greatest achievements in history,” said Administrator Alberto Alemán Zubieta. “I, personally, take great pride in our employees who have devoted so much time and energy to the Canal. Today, we remember what began here 90 years ago; we remember the past, the ingenuity and the sacrifice. So many people gave their lives for this noble cause. We look forward to the next 90 years; great things are yet to come.”

Readying itself for the future, the Panama Canal seeks to maintain its commitment to the maritime industry while providing the best value for its customers. Recent and ongoing projects include:

  • Widening the Gaillard Cut;
  • Deepening Gatun Lake (will provide an additional meter of water - a 45 percent increase),
  • Constructing a new barge and launch on-site in Panama;
  • Modernizing the locomotive fleet and replacing the locomotive tow tracks at Gatun Locks;
  • Implementing an electronic system to send and receive data to and from vessels planning to transit the Canal and implementing a new navigational system to track and monitor Canal traffic;
  • Achieving 142 days without a single delay, set October 12, 2003 through March 2, 2004;
  • Transporting more than one million net PC/UMS tons through the Canal in a single day - March 16, 2004.

Approximately 35 vessels transit the Canal every day - 11,725 oceangoing vessels transited the Canal in 2003. Since 1914, more than 880,000 vessels have transited the waterway.

About the Panama Canal Authority
The Panama Canal Authority is the autonomous agency of the Government of Panama in charge of managing, operating and maintaining the Panama Canal. The operation of the Panama Canal Authority is based on its organic law and the regulations approved by its Board of Directors. For more information, please refer to the Panama Canal Authority’s Web site: www.pancanal.com.


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