Frequently Asked Questions

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Who was the 1st Chief Engineer during the construction under US administration?

John F. Wallace was the first Chief Engineer of the Panama Canal, during the U.S. construction period.  Wallace directed all the works until 1905, when he was replaced by John F. Stevens.

Who completed the construction of the Panama Canal?

Colonel George W. Goethals has been credited with completing the construction of the Panama Canal.  Goethals replaced John F. Stevens in April 1907.

How many employees were there during the construction of the Panama Canal?

Between 1904 and 1913, a total of 56,307 persons were employed during the construction of the Panama Canal; 11,873 were European; 31,071 were from the West Indies; 11,000 were from the United States; and there were 69 unclassified.

How many people died during the French and U.S. construction of the Panama Canal?

According to hospital records, 5,609 died of diseases and accidents during the U.S. construction period. Of these, 4,500 were West Indian workers.  A total of 350 white Americans died.  The actual worker death toll during the French construction period will never be known, as the French would only record deaths at the hospitals, which were a small percentage of the total.  According to a report by Dr. Gorgas, it is possible that some 22,000 workers died during the French construction period.

What was the total construction cost of the Panama Canal?

The total construction cost of the Panama Canal was of approximately US$375,000,000, which included the US$10 million paid to Panama, and US$40 million paid to the French Canal Company for the rights to the Canal. Some authors mention a cost of US$387,000,000, but this amount includes the expense of fortifying the Canal, which is a cost separate from the actual Canal construction.

What was the volume of material excavated during the construction of the Canal?

As of July 1, 1914, a total of 238,845,587 cubic yards of material had been excavated during the U.S. construction period.  This volume, along with the 30,000,000 cubic yards excavated by the French, totals approximately 268,000,000 cubic yards, more than 4 times the volume originally estimated by Ferdinand de Lesseps for a sea level canal, and 3 times the volume excavated for the Suez Canal.

What was done with all the material?

The disposal of all the excavated material was a very important aspect of the excavation.  Nearly hundreds of millions of cubic yards of earth and rock were moved and spread.  Part of the material was used to turn an island into a peninsula 3 ¼ miles out on the Pacific Ocean, creating the Naos Island breakwater.  Another part of the material was used to create nearly 500 acres along the Pacific Ocean coast to create the town of Balboa and the U.S. military post of Fort Amador.  Despite all this, millions of cubic yards of earth were disposed of in the jungle.  The largest disposal sites were at Tavernilla, Gatun Dam, Miraflores, and Balboa.

What were the major obstacles in constructing the waterway?

There were 4 major obstacles to the construction of a canal through Panama:

  • A very complex mountain chain formation;
  • The difficulties posed by the tropical jungle, with its annual average rainfall of 105 inches, and an average temperature of 80 degrees;
  • The tendency of rivers to overflow;  and
  • The most mortal of all, malaria and yellow fever diseases, which were endemic in the area

Who had the idea of building a canal through the Isthmus of Panama?

The dream of building a canal through the Isthmus of Panama to join the Atlantic and the Pacific dated back to the beginning of the sixteenth century, when Vasco Núñez de Balboa crossed Panama in 1515, and discovered that only a narrow strip of land separated both oceans.

Emperor Charles V espoused the belief that there was no natural passage, and began efforts to build a passageway through the Isthmus.

When did the French begin construction?

On January 10, 1880, Count Ferdinand de Lesseps began the excavation work of the Canal with a blast at Culebra.

When did Gatun Lake join the Culebra Cut?

On the afternoon of October 10, 1913, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson pushed a button in Washington, D.C., to blast a dike at Gamboa.  The signal, sent by telegraph from Washington to New York, then to Galveston, and from there to Panama, was almost instantaneous.  Culebra Cut had almost totally been flooded and became an extension of Gatun Lake.

Which was the first vessel to transit the Panama Canal?

Officially ,the SS Ancon was the first vessel to transit the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914.  However, the first transit completed through the Canal was done as part of a work routine on January 7, 1914, when the crane Alexander La Valley crossed the Pacific locks without any type of ceremony.

Who was the first pilot of the Panama Canal?

The first Panama Canal pilot was Captain John Constantine, a Greek national.