The Panama Canal [Slide Show]

August 1914–August 2014

By Daniel C. Schlenoff

1 of 10

Panama Canal Opens: 

The great canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans officially opened for ship traffic on August 15, 1914. The Great War had just started and was raging in Europe, so this monumental engineering work was opened with little fanfare.....[ More ]

U.S. President Visits Panama: 

The U.S. took over the work on the canal in 1904. Pres. Teddy Roosevelt believed it was important for the prestige and influence of the U.S. to build and control the canal. Our photograph shows Roosevelt during his visit to the U.S.-controlled Canal Zone in 1906.....[ More ]

Massive Lock Gates: 

The metal lock gates on the Panama Canal enable sections to be closed off and raised and lowered. In this way ships traveling through the canal can be raised 25 meters up to the canal level and lowered the same distance at the other end.....[ More ]

A Ship in the Locks: 

Ships were brought through the locks of the Panama Canal by electric “mules” crawling along the bank. 27–metric ton fender chains were stretched across the lock gates to prevent a ship from colliding with them.....[ More ]

Gigantic Mudslides: 

Before the canal opened (and after, as well) the walls of the canal sometimes collapsed into the waterway. Our photo shows the Cucaracha Slide after it blocked up the channel with a huge amount of dirt.....[ More ]

Gigantic Machines: 

Large amounts of dirt and soil needed to be dug out for the Panama Canal. This image shows the scoop from a huge dipper dredge, a machine capable of removing 18 metric tons of material in one scoop. (The men stood inside the scoop to show how large it was.)....[ More ]

The First Ship: 

The ocean-going cargo ship “Alliance” was sent through the Panama Canal on June 18, 1914, as a test. Ships use their own engines in the canal parts, but in the locks they were (and still are) towed by electric “mules” or trolleys running at two miles per hour on tracks alongside the canal.....[ More ]

Lights for Navigation: 

The Panama Canal planned to have a series of gas-powered lights so that the waterway could be used at night. This plan was expensive, so the lights (all electric by then) were only installed in 1966.....[ More ]

9 Pleasure Cruises:

The Hamburg–America Line took out ads for pleasure cruises, planned for January 1915, on the SS Cincinnati and SS Cleveland ships. The First World War started shortly after the ad ran, and there were no vacation cruises during wartime.....[ More ]

American Battleship:

The USS Colorado on September 3, 1924, in the Gaillard Cut (also called the Culebra Cut) of the Panama Canal. The canal has been important to the U.S. defense because ships, troops and material can be moved relatively quickly between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, as needed.....[ More ]

risk free title graphic

YES! Send me a free issue of Scientific American with no obligation to continue the subscription. If I like it, I will be billed for the one-year subscription.

cover image Subscribe Now
Share this Article:

Email this Article