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Panama Canal Essay, Research Paper
Is it really worth building a canal in Nicaragua? With news of Nicaragua adopting the idea of a dry canal the first question that should come to mind is, is it really worth building a canal in Nicaragua? Many people look at Panama with its enviable economy and say that Nicaragua needs a canal but they don t realize the problems it brings. Many people know exactly the history of the Panama Canal but few know how many people died to build it, and how many troubles it has created for Panama.
Canal s can increase tourism and the economic growth of a country with out even mentioning the jobs it creates, but that s not all. Hard work and dedication are needed to build such a canal and few countries in the world possess the manpower needed and willing to do this exhausting work. Many companies went broke trying to create the Panama Canal and many famous architects and engineers were left jobless after the Big Ditch ruined their reputation. Building a Canal is not as easy as many people imagine. Is Nicaragua actually ready to begin such a grueling construction? Do they have what it takes? Will Nicaragua ever see a canal in its soil which was the dream of many French and American people?
History of the Panama Canal:
A great water tollway, often called the “Big Ditch,” links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It weaves across a strip of tropical land where the Isthmus of Panama narrows in the shape of a long flattened letter S . The fame of the Panama Canal is not in its size, since it is only about 51 miles long. The Big Ditch is an engineering triumph over nature. It has also been a major influence on world trade. It is probably the most important construction ever created in the 20th century.
A sea-level canal is not a new idea. It was considered when interest in a canal developed in the 16th century. In 1534 King Charles I of Spain ordered a survey to determine the possibility of a canal in the Panama region. He abandoned his plans when the Spanish governor there made an unfavorable report.
Balboa had discovered the Pacific in 1513. He sighted the vast ocean from a peak some miles southeast of the eventual Panama Canal location. The Pacific port of the canal, Balboa, was named in his honor.
For years the Spaniards searched in vain for a natural waterway joining the two oceans. Eventually they brought their gold and silver from Peru and other South American colonies to Panama City on the Pacific side. Mule trains carried the treasure through narrow trails to Portobello or Nombre de Dios on the Caribbean. Ships there loaded the cargo for shipment to Spain. Pirates frequently raided Panama.
More than 20 routes for such a crossing were proposed. Locations were surveyed in areas ranging from one end of the isthmus to the other. A number placed the proposed canal close to the routes mentioned for a new sea-level canal today. Rocky ridges were an obstacle. Some plans called for tunnels through them to accommodate stretches of the canal. One proposal was for a railway to carry fully laden ships across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec on a mammoth platform drawn by steam engines. This plan, developed by Capt. James Buchanan Eads, a prominent American engineer, was given serious consideration.
Another possibility was to build the canal through Nicaragua. This country offered unique conditions, since the Nicaraguan Lake was already connected by Rio San Juan to the Atlantic Ocean. In the Pacific side, a 10-mile land strip was the only obstacle to get to the ocean. On the Atlantic side, the San Juan River could be easily dug and couple of esclusas (huge mechanical shovels) would do the job. On the pacific side, the job would be much easier and faster than what the engineers had to do in the case of Panama.
By 1850 Nicaragua was the best alternative for travelers from the East Coast trying to reach California during the Gold Rush. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt set up a shipping company called Compa a del Transito. This shipping line transported passenger and cargo from New York to San Juan del Norte in Nicaragua. Then, navigated the Rio San Juan and Lake Nicaragua reaching port San Jorge. From San Jorge they were transported by wagons (diligencias) to the port of San Juan del Sur in the Pacific Ocean. From San Juan del Sur, they traveled in big vessels to California.
The Nicaraguan option did not worked out for three main reasons:
Political instability propelled by the troops of invader General William Walker, that not only created problems for Nicaraguans, but also for Vanderbilt s company.
The colonialist interests that the British had those days in Nicaragua. They controlled the Mosquitia Coast where San Juan del Norte was located.
The possibility of strong earthquakes in the volcano rich area.
In 1850 the United States Senate ratified the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty with Great Britain. This agreement provided for the neutrality of the canal whenever it was built. The Spanish-American War focused attention on the need for a way to move warships quickly between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
A French company under Ferdinand de Lesseps began an actual construction of a sea-level canal in 1882. He had completed the Suez Canal in 1869. By comparison, however, building the Suez Canal had been simple. Mismanagement, dishonesty, and terrible epidemics of disease in Panama forced the French company into bankruptcy in 1889. During seven years of digging, 22,000 men had died of tropical diseases. This was equivalent to wiping out the entire construction crew twice, for the total number of men employed at any one time did not average more than 10,000.
The French canal builders did not know that the deadly malaria and yellow fever were caused by bites of certain mosquitoes. Serious errors were made in sanitation. French physicians were said to have ordered the legs of hospital beds placed in water to keep ants and other crawling bugs from the patients. The water became an additional breeding place for mosquitoes, which already were swarming in from marshes, streams, and pools in the hot, rainy region.
On the Isthmus, the Compagnie Universelle established medical services presided over to the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul. The first 200-bed hospital was established in Colon in March 1882. On the Pacific side, construction for L’H pital Central de Panama, the forerunner of Ancon Hospital, was begun on Ancon Hill. It was dedicated six months later, on September 17, 1882.
With the information on the mosquito connection in the transmission of yellow fever and malaria not yet discovered, the French and the good sisters unwittingly committed a number of errors that were to cost dearly in human life and suffering. The hospital grounds were set out with many varieties of vegetables and flowers. To protect them from leaf-eating ants, waterways were constructed around flowerbeds. Inside the hospital itself, water pans were placed under bedposts to keep of insects. Both insect-fighting methods provided excellent and convenient breeding sites for the Stegomyia fasciata and Anopheles mosquitoes, carriers of yellow fever and malaria.
Many patients who came to the hospital for other reasons often fell ill with these diseases after their arrival. It got to the point where people avoided the hospital whenever possible.
Finally, with all excavating arrangements made, Couvreux and Hersent decided to withdraw from the project and wrote to de Lesseps requesting cancellation of their contract on December 31, 1882.
In June 1902 the United States agreed to buy the concession of the French company for 40 million dollars if Colombia would cede a strip of land across the isthmus. A treaty was signed in 1903, but the Colombian government was reluctant to ratify it. Angered company agents and Panamanian businessmen plotted secession from Colombia. With covert support from President Theodore Roosevelt, the Panamanians launched a successful revolution and declared Panama a Republic. Two weeks later the United States signed a treaty with Panama. The United States agreed to pay the country 10 million dollars plus 250,000 dollars a year for the use, occupation, and administration of a 10-mile-wide strip along the canal, 5 miles on each side.
Credit goes to two United States Army colonels for succeeding where the French had failed. Colonel George Washington Goethals, as engineer in chief after 1907, directed construction. Colonel William Crawford Gorgas of the Medical Corps, as chief sanitary officer, led the battle against disease. Later both men became major generals.
The United States took possession of the canal property on May 4, 1904. The first two and a half years were devoted to the careful preparation that brought health and efficiency when actual construction started.
Construction preparations were carried on under the supervision of the Isthmian Canal Commission, appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt. John F. Stevens was chief engineer. To recruit the large work force required, the commission set up agencies in the United States, Europe, and the West Indies. Meanwhile, buildings were started and equipment assembled to house, feed, and safeguard the employees. Unskilled or semiskilled workers were paid in silver coin, while the skilled craftsmen and those occupying executive, professional, and higher clerical positions were paid in gold. This classification of workers into “silver” and “gold” employees persisted long after the canal opened. Much later they were all paid in paper money.
The construction equipment that had to be assembled included mammoth steam shovels, locomotives, trackshifters, pile drivers, dredges, steamboats, and tugs. The railway was reorganized. A civil government for the Canal Zone was established, with courts, police force, fire companies, and customs and revenue service. A postal system was organized.
When Stevens resigned in 1907, President Roosevelt appointed Colonel Goethals chief engineer and chairman of the Canal Commission. He had complete control of construction. From then on the government under Army supervision did the work, instead of by private contractors.
The construction of the canal was a 40-mile-long panorama of industry. Toiling under the tropical sun in the mighty cuts were legions of sweating laborers, some in shirt sleeves, some almost naked. Some worked with pick, shovel, and crowbar. Others with drill and dynamite in the stone cuts. Series of cableways and a network of railway tracks ran everywhere. Mighty derricks and cranes swung huge buckets of concrete through the air and lowered them into the forms to build locks and embankments. Powerful drills bored holes into solid rock at the rate of seven feet an hour. The arms of monster dipper dredges rose and fell from barges afloat in swamps and bays.
More than 100 steam shovels doing the work of 10,000 men dug up earth in ten-ton scoopfuls and dumped it into waiting railroad cars. One hundred fifteen locomotives hauled trains of these cars to the dumps. Here a great plow traveled from one end of the train to the other unloading 20 cars, each carrying 60 tons, in less than ten minutes. The earth, which was excavated, totaled more than 239 million cubic yards:
Enough to make a line of 70 pyramids, each the size of the Great Pyramid of Egypt.
If dumped in the Managua Lake, the lake level would increase about 25 feet.
If dumped in some Nicaraguan lagoons enough material to cover Asososca, Tispaca, Xiloa, Apoyeque, Masaya, Apoyo and still lots of material would have to be dumped elsewhere.
This earth was used to build Gatun Dam, fill low places, and build breakwaters for the new port of Balboa.
Dynamite charges of as much as 40,000 pounds at a time blasted away at mountains of the Continental Divide. Cuts 300 feet deep were made here. A spirit of competition grew among the three construction divisions the Central, Atlantic, and Pacific. The work progressed in the face of constant difficulties. Once there was an earthquake. Heavy rains, which brought terrific landslides in the Culebra Cut, often undid the work of months. The Chagres River, flowing down the Atlantic side, was particularly troublesome because of its floods. This problem was solved when Gatun Dam was constructed from earth and rock. The finished dam is one and a half miles long, a half-mile wide at the base, and 100 feet wide at the top.
On Oct. 10, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson, 4,000 miles away in the White House in Washington, D.C., pressed an electric button. The impulse sent a flash over cables to set off a charge of dynamite. This blew out a temporary dike. A flood of water rushed through a rock-walled rift in the mountains, and the Panama Canal was a dream realized.
United States engineers at a cost of 380 million dollars had achieved the greatest engineering wonder of the world. The Canal Zone marked the historic day by placing a new motto on its official seal: “A Land Divided, the World United.” On August 15, 1914, the canal was opened to world commerce. The first ship through was the vessel Ancon, carrying guests of honor. After 400 years, the first explorers’ dream of a westward passage had come true.
The French company had planned a canal 74 feet wide. The United States set a minimum of 300 feet. During the years, dredging has further enlarged some portions of the canal. Many stretches have been widened to at least 500 feet. Gaillard Cut, twisting through deep passes, has continued to be a problem. In 1955 cracks appeared in Contractor’s Hill and threatened to slide a mountain of earth and rock into the canal. Three million cubic yards were excavated to reduce the hazard. The regular uprooting of water hyacinths is also necessary. The plants grow so rapidly they could choke off canal traffic.
Due to the fact that thousandths of people died during the construction of the Panama Canal it is important to realize what was so hard about building the canal. We have already seen that the diseases were one deadly factor but also the environment. Probably the hardest part about the building of the Canal was the Culebra Cut.
The Culebra Cut was the special wonder of the canal. Here, men and machines labored to conquer the 8.75-mile stretch extending through the Continental Divide from Gamboa on the Chagres River at the north to Pedro Miguel on the south. The lowest point in the saddle between Gold Hill on the east and Contractors Hill on the west was at elevation 333.5 feet above sea level.
Holes were drilled, filled with explosives and detonated to loosen the rock and rock-hard clay. Steam shovels then excavated the spoil, placing it on railroad cars to be hauled to dump sites. Excavation equipment, in addition to the railroad itself, included steam shovels, unloaders, spreaders and track-shifters. Of this equipment, only the steam shovel had been known to the French, and then in a much less powerful form. That was one reason why French constructors had such a hard time.
A very big improvement in the construction area was the Lidgerwood Unloader. The Lidgerwood Unloader was manufactured by the Lidgerwood Manufacturing Company of New York City. It consisted of wooden flatcars with a rated canal capacity of 19 cubic yards hauling most of the spoil, pulled in long trains by full-sized American locomotives. Built with only one side, they had steel aprons bridging the spaces between cars. Dirt was piled high against one side. At the dump site, the unloader, a three-ton plow, was hitched to the last car by a long cable to a huge winch-like device mounted on a flatcar at the head of the train.
Taking its power from the locomotive, the winch pulled the plow rapidly forward, unloading the whole twenty-car train in a single, 10-minute sweep. One of these machines once set an 8-hour record by unloading 18 trains, about 3 + miles of cars containing about 7,560 cubic yards of material. Engineers estimated that 20 of these unloaders operated by 120 laborers did the work of 5,666 men unloading by hand.
The dirt-spreader was another American innovation. A car operated by compressed air, it had steel wings on each side that could be raised and lowered. When lowered, they sloped 11.5 feet backward from the rails. Moving forward, the dirt-spreader spread and leveled the material left along the track by the unloader. Like the unloader, the spreader did the work of some 5,000 to 6,000 men working by hand
American William G. Bierd, general manager of the Panama Railroad from September 1905 to October 1907, invented another machine, the track-shifter. The huge crane-like machine would hoist a whole section of track rails and ties and swing it in either direction, to relocate it as much as 9 feet at a time. With the tracks at the dumps needing constant shifting to keep pace with the arriving loads of spoil, the track-shifter was extremely useful. It took less than a dozen men operating on the shifter one day to move a mile of track, a task requiring not less than 600 men if done manually.
A large number of 17-cubic-yard capacity, 4-sided Western and Oliver dump cars (27 cars comprising a train) were also used. As it was hard to unload the dirt from these cars because the heavy clay would stick to the steel sides, they were used almost exclusively for hauling rock from the Cut to Gatun Dam. Their 4-sided design made them impossible for use with the unloader. More than a hundred million cubic yards of spoil had to be hauled away from the excavation site and dumped. Part of this spoil was used to join a series of four small islands in Panama Bay (Naos, Perico, Culebra and Flamenco) to create a breakwater. This breakwater is topped by a roadway, making it a causeway that extends three and a quarter miles out into the Pacific. The stretch between the mainland and Naos Island was a very troublesome dumping area because of a soft bottom, into which tons of rock would settle and virtually disappear. Track and trestle used to haul the spoil to the dumping area would disappear overnight into the ocean and have to be replaced. In the end, to reach Naos Island took ten times the estimated spoil.
Spoil was also used to claim nearly 500 acres of Pacific Ocean to create the Balboa townsite and the Fort Amador military reservation. Millions of cubic yards of material also had to be hauled out to big waste dumps in the jungle. In the largest of these, Tabernilla, 17,000,000 cubic yards of material were deposited. Balboa was the biggest dumpsite. Other big dumps were Gatun Dam, and Miraflores.
Gatun Dam, on the Atlantic, was, at the time of its construction, the largest earthen dam in the world and Gatun Lake the largest manmade body of water in the world. Today, Gatun Lake doesn t even make the top thirty list of such lakes. Two other dams were built on the Pacific side the Miraflores Spillway and, in the 1930s, Madden Dam farther up the Chagres River. With the building of Gatun Dam, the Chagres River valley between Gamboa and Gatun became Gatun Lake, with the Chagres flowing into it at Gamboa. The building of Gaillard Cut then extended the lake across the Continental Divide to Pedro Miguel Locks.
Earth slides in Culebra Cut were a constant concern for construction engineers. The first under the American effort occurred at Cucaracha on October 4, 1907 when some 500,000 cubic yards of material moved into the Cut following several days of unusually heavy rain. For ten days the slide moved an average of 14 feet every 24 hours. Cucaracha remains today a slide surveillance area.
A normal or gravity slide like Cucaracha, the largest of its kind at the Canal, occurs where a layer of porous material rests upon a sloping surface of harder material such as rock. Rainwater saturating the overlying porous material forms a slippery zone against the harder material below, causing the entire top layer, which can vary in thickness from 10 and 40 feet, to slide.
Geologists classify another type of slide as structural break or deformation slides. In these, factors such as unstable geological rock formations, slope steepness and height and the effects of blasting combine to form a slide. At the Canal, excavation removed lateral support from the high banks created in the deepest portions of Culebra Cut. Unable to sustain the weight above it, the slopes sheared and settled forcing the underlying layer of poor-quality rock and soft material to be crushed and forced laterally into the prism of the Canal, heaving up the Canal bottom.
The most formidable slides of this character occur during the dry season, and are in no way due to ground saturation by rainfall.
The two most serious structural break slides during the American construction period occurred on the east bank north of Gold Hill and on the west bank in front of Culebra village. The west bank slide covered a 75-acre area requiring the removal of some 10,000,000 cubic yards of material, and a number of village buildings had to be removed or demolished. The 50-acre Gold Hill slide on the east bank required removal of some 7,000,000 cubic yards of material.
Canal engineers were completely unprepared for and confounded by this unexpected slide activity. In 1906, the minority report of the International Board of Consulting Engineers placed total Culebra Cut excavation for a lock canal at 53,800,000 cubic yards; the minority report estimated the amount necessary for a 40-foot-deep sea level canal at 110,000,000 cubic yards. In 1908 the canal commission revised the Cut excavation estimate to about 78,000,000 cubic yards; in 1910 to 84,000,000; in 1911 to 89,000,000; in 1912 to nearly 94,000,000; and in 1913 to about 100,000,000. The increased Cut excavation required was due partially to an increased bottom width from 200 to 300 feet, an increase of about 13,000 cubic yards, but the slides were the main reason.
The one-year record high for construction-era excavation was set in 1908, with more than 37,000,000 cubic yards of spoil taken from the Cut. This was also the year in which Lieutenant Frederick Mears began directing the relocation of the Panama Railroad line to higher ground ahead of inundation of the existing tracks by the filling of Gatun Lake. Building the 40 miles of new track was completed May 25, 1912, at a cost of nearly $9,000,000.
The following chart shows the maximum force employed during each year of construction work
Date Work Force
May, 1904 1,000 (Approx.)
Nov., 1904 3,500
Nov., 1905 17,000
Dec., 1906 23,901
Oct., 1907 31,967
Apr., 1908 33,170
Oct., 1909 35,495
Mar., 1910 38,676
Dec., 1911 37,826
June, 1912 38,174
Aug., 1913 39,962
June, 1914 33,270
The following table shows the total number of contract laborers brought to the Isthmus throughout the work. It does not include the number of workers recruited from the United States.
Country 1904 1905 1906 1907 1908 1909 1910 1911 1912 1913
Spain 1,174 5,293 1,831
Cuba 500
Italy 909 1,032
Greece 1,101
France 19
Armenia 14
Total Europeans 2,616 7,426 1,831
Fortune Island 361
Barbados 404 3,019 6,510 3,242 2,592 3,605 528
Guadeloupe 2,039 14
Martinique 2,733 585 2,224
Jamaica 47
Trinidad 1,079 205 143
Curacao 23
St. Kitts 933 9
St. Lucia 55
St. Vincent 296
Grenada 93
British Guiana 332
Total West Indies 404 5,799 9,491 7,505 2,592 3,605 205 942 528
Costa Rica 244
Colombia 1,077 416
Panama 334 10 13
Not classified 69
Grand Total 404 7,454 12,602 14,944 4,423 3,605 205 942 528
Providing food for more than 40,000 employees and their families in a country with little food production capability and few stores was a tremendous task at the beginning. With the goal in mind of maintaining a healthy and contented work force, the Isthmian Canal Commission imported food on the Panama Railroad steamers. They also started farms to grow fruits and vegetables, even plants and flowers, as well as farms to produce milk and eggs.
It was a difficult task in the beginning, but every effort was made to ensure adequate living standards, in accordance with standards of the time, for canal workers. Ice and cold storage warehouses were constructed, and a bakery and ice cream plant were set up. The Panama Railroad had refrigerated cars to provide distribution to settlements along the line of the canal.
Hotels or restaurants were established for the American bachelors. A number of mess halls were built for the European laborers where meals were furnished at 40 cents per day. Kitchens were built for the West Indian laborers. Rations were furnished and cooked in these kitchens for 30 cents per day.
The Canal s Job
About 32 oceangoing vessels pass through the canal daily. They pay an average of $28,000 for passage, for an estimated total yearly income of 330 million dollars, a little bit less than Nicaragua s yearly exports. Some massive ships pay tolls several times this amount. The fees are well spent, for the trip of some eight to ten hours through the canal saves many miles and many days of travel. If there were no Panama Canal, a ship going from San Francisco, California to New York City would have to sail down around the tip of South America, an additional 7,900 nautical miles, some of it in very rough seas.
An almost endless variety of commodities pass through the canal day after day. About 140 million tons of oceangoing commercial cargos are shipped through the canal in a single year. The main commodity group, petroleum and petroleum products, makes up about 22 percent of the annual cargo tonnage. Grains compose about 16 percent. A significant development in canal cargo has been the increase in automobile trade. Over 2.4 million tons of automobiles are moved through the canal every year, most being transported from Japan to the United States. A small percentage of the world’s water shipping is routed through the canal. The greatest user is the United States, which transports much of its imports from Latin American neighbors through the watercourse.
In fiscal 1915, the first year of operation, about 5 million tons of cargos were shipped through the Panama Canal. In 1924, 27 million tons were carried through it. Between 1925 and 1941 the annual tonnage varied between 18 million and 31 million. There was a dip in total cargo during World War II, but since then nearly every year has shown an increase. The figure for 1950 was some 30 million tons. By the early 1960s the volume had almost doubled. During the late 1960s, largely as a result of the Suez Canal blockade, tonnage rose to much more than 100 million tons annually
As much as the Canal brings benefits to Panama it also brings tons of problems. Some are similar to those of land highways. Increasing traffic has required widening the lanes. “Street lights” have been put in for night safety. One-way traffic is necessary at times. Modern traffic control systems have been installed. The comparison with land travel, however, has limits. The Panama Canal, because of its location, size, and type of construction, has problems unlike those of any other transportation link in the world.
Design of the Locks
The original lock canal plan called for one three-step set of locks at Gatun, one step at Pedro Miguel and a two-step set at Sosa Hill. In late 1907, it was decided to move the Sosa Hill locks further inland to Miraflores, mostly because the new site provided a more stable construction foundation, but also because it afforded greater protection against sea bombardment.
The locks took their names from geographic names already in common use before the Canal was built. All lock chambers have the same 110 by 1,000 feet dimensions, and they are built in pairs. That is, two lanes of chambers run side by side to accommodate two lanes of traffic, either in opposite directions at the same time or in the same direction, depending on transit needs. Gatun Locks consists of three steps or pairs of chambers, there is one step at Pedro Miguel and two at Miraflores, making six pairs, 12 chambers in all. The locks have been called the structural triumph of the Panama Canal and are a unique aspect of the waterway. At the time of their construction, their overall mass, dimensions and innovative design surpassed any similar existing structures, and they are still considered to be an engineering wonder of the world.
It took four years to build all of the locks from the first concrete being laid at Gatun on August 24, 1909. Until the late 1800s, concrete, a combination of sand, gravel and cement, had been little used in building, and then mostly for floors and basements. There was still a great deal to be learned and numerous decisions to be made in the science of concrete which requires specific, controlled measurements of water/cement/sand ratios and aggregate size, as well as careful timing of a streamlined delivery system from source to site. The concrete work in Panama was an unprecedented challenge that would not be equaled in total volume until construction of Boulder Dam in the 1930s.
In spite of the newness of the science, the results were extraordinary. After more than 80 years of service, the concrete of the Panama Canal locks and spillways is in near perfect condition, which to present-day engineers is among the most exceptional aspects of the entire Canal.
Canal organization ships, the Ancon and the Cristobal, brought all of the cement to build the locks, dams and spillways from New York. On the Atlantic side, gravel and sand came by water from areas east of Colon, the gravel from a large crushing plant in Portobelo and the sand from Nombre de Dios. For the Pacific side, rock was quarried and crushed at Ancon Hill; the sand came from Punta Chame in Panama Bay.
Three men, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Hodges, Edward Schildhauer and Henry Goldmark, were largely responsible for the engineering design of the locks. The work took years of advanced planning. Hodges was an Army officer and an invaluable assistant to Goethals. He had overall responsibility for the design and construction of the lock gates, arguably the most difficult technical responsibility of the entire project. Goethals was to state that the Canal could not have been built without Hodges. Schildhauer was an electrical engineer and Goldmark was in charge of lock gate design.
The key factor in the whole Canal enterprise, of course, was, and is, water. Water lifts ships 85 feet above sea level to the surface of Gatun Lake, floats them across the Continental Divide and lowers them again to sea level in the opposite ocean. Water also serves to generate electrical power for the Canal to run the electric motors that open and close the gates and valves and the electric locks locomotives.
No pumps are used at the Panama Canal, the water does its work by force of gravity alone. Water is admitted or released through giant tunnels, or culverts, eighteen feet in diameter, running lengthwise within the center and sidewalls of the locks. Branching off at right angles to these culverts, smaller culverts run laterally under the floor of each lock chamber, 20 to each chamber. Each cross culvert has five openings for a total of 100 holes in each chamber for the water to enter or drain, depending on which valves are opened or closed. This large number of holes distributes the water evenly over the full floor area to control turbulence
To fill a lock, the main valves at the lower end of the chamber are closed, while those at the upper end are opened. The water pours from the lake through the large culverts into the cross culverts and up through the holes in the chamber floor. To release the water from the lock, the valves at the upper end are closed, while those at the lower end are opened.
The lock gates, or miter gates as they are known because they close in a wide V , are the Canal s most dramatic moving parts. The gates swing like double doors. The hollow, watertight construction of their lower halves makes them buoyant in the water, greatly reducing the working load on their hinges. All gate leaves (gates sustaining water) are 64 feet wide by 7 feet thick. However, they vary in height from 47 to 82 feet, depending on their position. For example, the Miraflores Locks lower chamber gates are the highest because of the extreme variation in the Pacific tides.
The design and manufacture of all of the lock gates was one of the Canal s great engineering challenges and one of its greatest triumphs. Edward Schildhauer designed the simple, yet powerful gate operating mechanism. In its design he had no established model to go by. Yet every aspect of this critical mechanism had to be precision engineered and manufactured to work flawlessly and dependably. The gates had to swing easily, yet withstand enormous pressures. To operate, the lock gates leaves are connected by steel arms, called struts, to huge bull wheels constructed within the lock walls. Each 20-foot-diameter, horizontal-lying bull wheel is geared to an electric motor. When in operation, wheel and strut work like the driving wheel and connecting rod on a railroad locomotive to open and close the gates.
At Miraflores Locks, each lock chamber, except for the lower locks, has a set of intermediate gates. The purpose of these is to conserve water by reducing the size of the chamber, if the ship in transit is not one of the Panamax giants and can be accommodated by a 600-foot chamber.
As the lock gates themselves are a form of dam and are above sea level, precautions were taken to protect them from damage that could allow the lake water to escape and flow out to sea. One measure was to have double gates ahead of the vessel, an operating gate and a guard gate, at points where damage to a gate could join the two levels, that is, at the upper and lower ends of the upper lock in each flight and at both ends of the Pedro Miguel single-step lock.
Also, iron fender chains were installed to stretch across the chambers between the lock walls to protect the guard gates. Only after the ship was in proper position and under towing locomotive control was the chain lowered. The idea was that if a ship went out of control and struck the chain, an automatic release would let the chain out slowly until the ship came to a stop, thus limiting possible damage. The expense of their upkeep against the extreme unlikelihood of their use caused the Board of Directors to approve fender chain removal in July 1976, except at the upper ends of Gatun and Pedro Miguel locks; these remaining chains were removed in October 1980.
Yet another devise stood as safeguard should a ship break through a guard gate. That was what was called an emergency dam installed on the sidewalls at the entrance of each upper lock between the fender chain and the guard gates. It is a big steel apparatus mounted to swing across the lock entrance in about two minutes in case of emergency. A series of wicket girders would descend forming runways down which huge steel plates would be dropped until the channel was sealed off. Never put to use, the emergency dams were removed in the 1950s.
Electricity was the power that ran Canal construction-era cableways, cranes, rock crushers and cement mixers. An all-electric canal was an innovation in the first decade of the 20th century. Locks operations required some 1,500 electric motors, as all controls were electrical. The General Electric Company produced about half the electrical equipment needed during construction and virtually all of the permanent motors, relays, switches, wiring and generating equipment. They also built the original locks towing locomotives and all of the lighting.
The electric towing locomotive system was designed to provide complete control over the movement of vessels transiting the locks. Designed by Schildhauer, the locomotives work on track built atop the lock walls operating at a speed of about 2 miles per hour. An important design factor was that they have to travel the 45-degree incline between the lock chambers. The locomotives were built in Schenectady, New York, at a unit cost of $13,000.
Schildhauer also designed the basic concept of the locks control system, though its development was a joint effort with General Electric. All lock operation is accomplished from a control house built on the center wall of the upper lock chamber. Here, from an unobstructed view of the entire locks flight and a cleverly designed control board, a single person can run every operation in the passage of a ship, except towing locomotive movement.
A control board is a waist-high working representation of the locks in miniature. Everything that happens in the locks happens on the control board at precisely the same time. The switches to work the lock gates and the other system mechanisms are located beside the representation of that devise on the control board. To lift a huge oceangoing ship in a lock chamber, the operator has only to turn a small chrome handle.
Another ingenious parts of the system are elaborate racks of interlocking bars installed unseen below the control board to make the switches mechanically interlock. Each handle must be turned in proper sequence or it will not turn. This eliminates the possibility of doing anything out of order or forgetting a step.
Only in an electrically run system could the locks have been controlled from a central point. An individual motor in the system can be located as much as half a mile away from the control board. This same system has been in use virtually unchanged for more than eight decades, and it still works perfectly.
The Pacific-side locks were finished first, the single flight at Pedro Miguel second in 1911 and Miraflores in May of 1913. Exceptionally high morale permeated the entire work force at this time. On May 20, 1913, shovels No. 222 and No. 230, which had been slowly narrowing the gap in Culebra Cut, met on the bottom of the Canal. At 40 feet above sea level, the Cut had reached its full construction-era depth.
Guard gates at Gatun performed flawlessly the second week of June 1913, and on June 27, the last of the Gatun Dam spillway gates was closed, allowing the lake to now rise to full height. Dry excavation ended three months later. When a January 1913 slide at Cucaracha spilled 2,000,000 cubic yards of earth into the Cut, it was decided to flood the Cut and finish the clearing by dredge. The last steam shovel lifted the last rock in the cut on the morning of September 10, 1913, to be hauled out on the last dirt train by locomotive No. 260.
The seagoing tug Gatun, an Atlantic entrance working tug used for hauling barges, had the honor on September 26, 1913, of making the first trial lockage of Gatun Locks. The lockage went perfectly, although all valves were controlled manually since the central control board was still not ready.
As if to further test the system, an earthquake struck on September 30, knocking seismograph needles off the scale at Ancon. Although there were landslides in the interior and cracked walls in some Panama City buildings, Gorgas reported to Washington that there had been no damage whatever to any part of the Canal.
Six big pipes in the earthen dike at Gamboa flooded Culebra Cut that same week. Then, on October 10, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson pressed a button in Washington and relayed by telegraph from Washington to New York to Galveston to Panama the signal that blew the center of the dike to complete the flooding of the Cut and join it to Gatun Lake.
Dredges, tugs, barges and crane boats that had been laboring in the sea level approaches of the Canal and in the two terminal bays, much of it left behind by the French, were now brought in to clear the Cut. Barges dumped the spoil in designated areas of Gatun Lake, all in the manner that Philippe Bunau-Varilla had long ago said it should be done. Floodlights installed in the Cut allowed around the clock work. The old French ladder dredge Marmot made the pioneer cut through the Cucaracha slide on December 10, 1913, to open the channel for the first time.
Government of the Canal Zone
Until 1979 the United States governed the Panama Canal Zone. The Panama Canal Company, which operated the canal, was a corporation. Like a business corporation in the United States, the company had a president and a board of directors. It delivered annual reports to its “stockholder,” and its net income was referred to as “profit.”
The United States Army administered the canal and the zone surrounding it. The secretary of the Army was designated as the sole stockholder. The governor of the Canal Zone was a major general and was appointed by the president of the United States. He was also ex officio president of the Panama Canal Company. He was assisted by various department heads, which administered nearly all requirements of more than 10,000 full-time United States and Panamanian employees of the zone.
The Panama Canal Company formerly operated several 10,000-ton ocean liners, comprising the Panama Line. These ships regularly carried government and commercial cargo and passengers between New York City and Cristobal. In 1960, however, the United States government ordered the line to stop competing with private ships. After April 1961 only one ship was retained. It carried government cargo and passengers between New Orleans and Cristobal.
An American family accompanying a Panama Canal employee found life in the zone not unfamiliar. The Canal Zone government tried to establish a pattern of living like that in the United States. There were differences, however. The zone was essentially a government reservation, operated by the United States Army. There was no private enterprise in the zone. Americans made their purchases in government commissaries. The government Health Bureau provided hospitals and dental and medical clinics for the Americans. There was a wide variety of recreation. Much of it centered in government-operated clubhouses. Children of United States citizens went to public elementary and secondary schools and a junior college. Other children attended Latin American schools.
A new treaty, which became effective on Oct. 1, 1979, changed the governance of the area surrounding the canal. The Panama Canal Zone ceased to exist as a separate jurisdiction, and the area came under the control of the Panamanian government. The United States retained the use of only that land necessary to the operation and defense of the canal. The Panama Canal Commission, an agency with both United States and Panamanian membership, replaced the Panama Canal Company. The United States flag could be flown only at the commission’s headquarters and at other specified locations. Panama began to assume the governing responsibilities of the former Panama Canal Company. Although Americans employed by the commission continued to have the protection given to United States citizens abroad, they became subject to Panamanian law.
Even though the Canal has brought Panama economical wealth since the beginning, it has also created pain and shame. Some examples are the following:
The Panamanian political system has been controlled and directed by the United States. Many Panamanian Presidents had been deposed, appointed, even assassinated for not following the line . An example is President Remon
The US always used the Canal Zone as a military cover to control must of the Latin American countries in their political behavior, creating lots of pressure for Panama.
Panama s independence was not the result of the will of Panamanians. It was solely the interest of the US in building the canal. Thus, Panamanians does not have a clear identity, they are not proud of their history, etc. This means that Panamanians didn t fight for their independence because the U.S. fought for them and all they did was look as the Colombians couldn t do anything.
Now that the US has left Panama, its economy is suffering Panama was not ready to sustain its economy without the capital flow of thousands of thousands US employees and soldiers that boosted the economy by their consumption needs.
This report is very important because as many people know the idea of building a Dry Canal in Nicaragua has been on everyone s lips lately. This report should serve as a demonstration about what happened to Panama by giving up the land to build the canal. We must ask ourselves every question before we build a canal. Is it worth it? How much money will it create in contrast to what it consumes? The Panama Canal has many pros for Panama, but it also brought cons as was explained, and many other problems will appear in the future for Panama so is it really worth it building a canal in Nicaragua?