Map of canal plan c. 1904

Panama Canal

By bartj99
  • 1500

    Overarching Lesson

    The Panama Canal represents the U.S.'s meteoric rise to power by establishing its naval might to project a sphere of influence following the prescriptions of the influential military history book 'The Influence of Sea Power upon History', as expedited sea access from one coast of the U.S. to the other without having to go around South America was imperative to American goals and needs.
  • 1527

    Usage of the Camino de Cruces first begins

    Usage of the Camino de Cruces first begins
    Although barely developed for a long time, a 50-mile long "royal highway" (camino real) that was really a modest cobblestone trail is created through the jungle of Panama, connecting the old Panama City (seated on the Pacific coast) to the port located on the Atlantic-facing mouth of the Río Chagres. This was used to transport looted valuables (e.g. spices, gold, coffee) for shipping back to Spain. It remained popular in use until the Panama Canal Railway was erected.
  • 1534

    Spanish Attempt to Build Canal

    Spanish Attempt to Build Canal
    Charles I of Spain wanted to construct a canal through the Central American isthmus to expedite booty extraction from the Spanish colonies in the New World back to Seville. Although he had ordered cartographers to survey the land and propose an ideal route for the passage, it never came to fruition because he was faced with more pressing matters on the continental mainland that diverted his attention away for the remainder of his reign.
  • Period: to

    Latin American Wars of Independence

    A deluge of revolts bring the majority of the Spanish empire that gripped America to a close.
  • Panama becomes part of Gran Colombia

    Panama becomes part of Gran Colombia
    Simón Bolívar, also known as El Libertador (the Liberator of America) takes advantage of the chaos in Europe during Napoleon's Peninsular War to initiate a series of campaigns to rebuke Spanish rule and assert Latin American self-determination. Panama joins his republic of Greater Columbia, which eventually splinters due to political indecision.
  • The Monroe Doctrine

    The Monroe Doctrine
    Seeking economic opportunities in the nascent nations in Latin-America that had revolted from Spain's rule, President James Monroe made a proclamation in his annual state of the union address to Congress that European actions to re-instate colonialism in the Western Hemisphere could be interpreted as an act of war against the U.S. Although these claims were hefty in theory, in actuality the U.S. was not yet capable of enforcing it and the British flagrantly exerted their power in the hemisphere.
  • Bidlack Treaty (AKA New Granada Treaty)

    In the hopes of creating a canal, the U.S. signed an agreement with Colombia to provide forces to quell Panamanian insurrections in exchange for protecting its commercial enterprises in the Isthmus. This was a mutually beneficial agreement to ward off the potential of the British commandeering the isthmus for themselves.
  • Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

    Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
    The Mexican-American war came to a conclusion with the Mexicans capitulating under this treaty. Mexico ceded to America the expansive territories of present-day California, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Texas & most of New Mexico and Arizona (later completed in the Gadsden Purchase of 1853). The western frontier would become the site of the Gold Rush, but prospectors sought alternative means of getting there because crossing over the Rocky Mountains was treacherous. They set their sights on Panama.
  • The Pacific Mail Steamship Company is Established

    The Pacific Mail Steamship Company is Established
    The U.S. government collaborated with NYC investors to create a subsidized private shipping company with a reserve of civilian steamships that could be repurposed as warships or privateers in the event of a war. The PMSC was intended to carry American mail overseas from New York to the Rio Chagres on the Atlantic seaboard of Panama, where it would then be couriered on land through the Camino de Cruces to Panama City where it was loaded back onto a ship and sent to San Francisco.
  • The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty

    The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty
    The United States and The United Kingdom agreed for 50 years to remain amicable and collaboratively build a canal in the Central American Isthmus as a joint-effort. The two powers agreed to not claim exclusive military power over the future canal and to maintain a position of neutrality.
  • Panama Canal Railway Completed

    Panama Canal Railway Completed
    A 47-mile railroad was created in just under 5 years from Colón to Panama City; replacing the Camino de Cruces as the premier way to transfer cargo and voyagers from one coast of Panama to the other. It was funded by William H. Aspinwall (also a major shareholder in the PMSC) and his associates to compete with the Accessory Transit Company's route which had been built by Cornelius Vanderbilt along the Río San Juan dividing Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
  • Period: to

    Excerpt of Lord Palmerston Comment on Clayton-Bulwer Treaty

    In 1856, the British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston (Henry John Temple), predicted that one day Washington would use adventurers to establish “some independent North American state” on its behalf in Central America “in alliance with the United States, if not in Union with them, in short Texas all over again.” Lord Palmerston came uncannily close to forecasting what would happen in Panama in 1903–1904. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)
  • French Attempt to Build Canal

    French Attempt to Build Canal
    High off of his prior success, the architect Ferdinand de Lesseps who finished creating the Suez Canal in 1869 endeavored to follow it up in Panama. His attempt here was a failure because they faced many challenges that were not present in Egypt; such as the pestilence and the variance in altitude. They were woefully unprepared for the reality that the Panama Canal would require a lock system because the land was not flat and a one-level canal plan was nonviable.
  • 'The Influence of Sea Power upon History' is Published

    'The Influence of Sea Power upon History' is Published
    Written by American military historian Alfred Thayer Mahan, this book went into great detail about the significance of naval power in the establishing of global empires - and and prescribed its own policies for attaining greater power. This book is widely considered to have precipitated the late 19th-century U.S. push to modernize its fleet and acquire a number of forward-operating bases to establish command of the sea.
  • "Olney's twenty-inch gun blast"

    "Olney's twenty-inch gun blast"
    In July 1895, the United Kingdom was in the midst of a colonial crisis in Venezuela they were trying to quell when they were blindsided by a scathing denouncement from Secretary of State Richard Olney who demanded that the British arbitrate with the Venezuelans in compliance with the U.S.'s mandate of supremacy within the Monroe Doctrine. The U.K. was amused because the Monroe Doctrine was not a legitimate international law, but they decided to concede to maintain warm relations with America.
  • Walter Reed Confirms Mosquito-borne Theory of Yellow Fever Transmission

    Walter Reed Confirms Mosquito-borne Theory of Yellow Fever Transmission
    An expert in tropical diseases employed by the U.S. Army, Walter Reed's experiments had determined conclusively in December 1900 that the mosquito-borne Yellow Fever transmission theory first conceived by Cuban doctor Carlos Finlay was correct. This research and its findings would later prove instrumental for fumigation efforts in Panama to cut down on the deaths from Yellow Fever which ravaged the laborers in the jungle.
  • 2nd Hay-Pauncefote Treaty

    The U.S. and U.K. agreed to null the previous decision of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty by permitting The U.S. free reign to unilaterally operate a canal and enforce its exclusion with its military might. The first of these two treaties was not ratified by a U.S. Congress that (correctly) believed they could hold out for better terms than first agreed upon.
  • Hay-Herrán Treaty

    Hay-Herrán Treaty
    The dispute whether the canal should be built in Nicaragua or Panama was settled. The U.S. agreed to purchase the failed French company's assets for $40 million. The U.S. was also obligated to pay Colombia an immediate $10 million and an annual fee of $250,000 starting nine years after the treaty went into effect. In exchange for these sums, the U.S. received a 100 year renewable lease along a canal route with a six-mile-wide territory accompanying it dubbed the "canal zone".
  • Colombian Senate Refuses to Ratify Hay-Herrán Treaty

    According to British diplomats, 80% of the educated public within Colombia was incensed over the terms of the treaty. They refused to permit the U.S. the rights to operate the canal in perpetuity and insisted that Colombia receive a share of the assets bought from the French. The Colombian Senate came back to the U.S. with three separate revisions of the treaty, but each time Secretary Hay refused to relinquish any ground. President Roosevelt was indignant that the Colombians would dare resist.
  • Period: to

    Financier and "Keen-eyed French Duelist" Philippe Bunau-Varilla Conducts Meetings to Promote Panmanian Independence

    Although Roosevelt was never quite behind it in an official capacity at this stage so as to maintain plausible deniability, Assistant Secretary of State Francis Loomis and Secretary of State Hay often met for "consultations" with Phillipe Bunau-Varilla, who was planting the seeds for the revolution by meeting with and supporting the revolutionaries to protect his economic interests.
  • Gunboat USS Nashville Dispatched to Coast of Colombia

    Gunboat USS Nashville Dispatched to Coast of Colombia
    To support the Panamanian revolution, T.R. sent a fleet of ships to the coast of then-Colombia to deny the Colombian forces usage of the railroad, weakening their logistical supply chain in the conflict. A grand total of 9 American warships came to patrol the two coasts of Panama. Once it became clear that separation was inevitable, the Colombian senate impotently pleaded for T.R. to honor the agreement of the 1846 treaty.
  • First Design of Panamanian Flag Debuts

    First Design of Panamanian Flag Debuts
    Collaboratively designed by María de la Ossa de Amador, the First Lady of Panama & her son Manuel Encarnación Amador, this first design was created on November 1st 1903. Bunau-Varilla's wife attempted to propose a design prior to this which was rejected by the first Panamanian president Manuel Amador Guerrero because it looked too similar to the flag of the United States of America. The modern design used today is essentially the same, only the quadrants are flipped vertically.
  • U.S. Diplomatically Acknowledges Panamanian Republic's de facto Independence from Colombia

    U.S. Diplomatically Acknowledges Panamanian Republic's de facto Independence from Colombia
    Although legal recognition (de jure) lagged until a week later on November 13th, the U.S. declared the Panamanian junta as the de facto government of Panama on November 6th. Demetrio H. Brid became the de facto president of Panama for the duration of the provisional government until a proper election was held and Manuel Amador Guerrero became the first president elected after the ratification of the national constitution.
  • Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty

    Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty
    With Bunau-Varilla now taking part in the negotiation, a new agreement was drawn up that demanded far bolder concessions of the nascent independent Panama than those rejected by the Colombian government, but Panama was in no position to refuse. The canal zone was expanded from six to ten miles, perpetual U.S. tenure was required, and under Article 136 of the agreement the U.S. would have unrestricted rights to intervene in Panama to protect its independence.
  • U.S. Assumes Control of French Property

    U.S. Assumes Control of French Property
    The deal was complete. The U.S. inherited the incomplete ~14,256,000 cubic meter Culebra Cut (at the time dubbed by the Americans the Gaillard Cut) through the Continental Divide that the French had begun working on. The Americans however decided to not dig it as deep as the French did and elected instead to make it broader. This change was made possible because the U.S. didn't attempt to create a Suez-like sea-level canal. The cut connected Gatun Lake (Atlantic) to the Gulf of Panama (Pacific).
  • The Roosevelt Corollary

    The Roosevelt Corollary
    Roosevelt revised Monroe's oft trampled-over doctrine by ushering in a new era of proactive American interventionism in the Western Hemisphere with a new declaration of intent that the U.S. would enforce with unshakeable resolve. The United States would sincerely now exercise "international police power" into affairs in Latin America to prevent both European powers and Latin American countries from obstructing the U.S. agenda in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Yellow Fever Eradicated in Canal Zone

    Yellow Fever Eradicated in Canal Zone
    Doctor William Gorgas was dispatched by the U.S. government to spearhead the process of eliminating the mosquito population within the canal zone. He began by treating all standing or slow-moving bodies of water with a combination of insecticide and oil. He had windows in homes and buildings covered with wire screens and had his subordinates go door to door to search for mosquitoes or their eggs. He fumigated compromised houses and had workers who fell ill quarantined. His work proved a success.
  • The Isthmian Canal Commission Accepts Stevens' Lock Canal Plan

    The Isthmian Canal Commission Accepts Stevens' Lock Canal Plan
    The second appointed Chief Engineer John Frank Stevens calculated that a sea-level canal would take twice as long as a lock-based canal would to create, if the former would even prove possible at all. He determined that a lock system would require far less digging, less maintenance costs, provide better safety and could be completed in only nine years. Stevens had to later speak before a House Committee in May to convince holdouts within Congress that a Suez-style plan would prove non-viable.
  • Teddy Roosevelt travels to Panama

    Teddy Roosevelt travels to Panama
    To see the obstacles troubling the development of the Culebra Cut first hand, Roosevelt became the very first President in American history to embark upon a tour outside the continental U.S. He left on the sixth of November and returned home seventeen days later after visiting both Panama and Puerto Rico. T.R. met and shook hands with many of the workers and even played as if he was a steam shovel operator for 20 minutes.
  • Chief Engineer John F. Stevens Resigns

    Chief Engineer John F. Stevens Resigns
    Dated January 30th, T.R. received a letter from Chief Engineer John Frank Stevens expressing his bitterness over being separated from his family and his miserable living conditions. He was frustrated with being paid so little for a project that demanded relentless meticulousness. Although it was not explicitly a resignation, the dissatisfaction conveyed by Stevens was irreconcilable and a replacement was needed immediately.
  • Colonel George Washington Goethals Appointed as 3rd Chief Engineer

    Colonel George Washington Goethals Appointed as 3rd Chief Engineer
    Selected in part because he would be easier to control as a military colonel, George Washington Goethals was chosen by Secretary of War William Taft to replace John F. Stevens. Although he had promised not to change any aspect of the system Stevens had created; because of his military affiliation he was aware of the specifications of prototype ships. He knew that the planned USS Pennsylvania battleship was too wide for the current locks, so he ordered that the Culebra Cut and locks be widened.
  • Canal Officially Opens

    Canal Officially Opens
    Just as the first World War commences, the Panama Canal reaches completion and begins operations. Over a thousand commercial ships utilized its service within its first year of operation.
  • Riots Erupt over Panamanian Flag in Canal Zone

    Riots Erupt over Panamanian Flag in Canal Zone
  • Torrijos-Carter Treaties

    Torrijos-Carter Treaties
    Carter hands over the Canal to Panama, although it would not take effect until the new millennium.
  • Canal Officially Exchanges Ownership to Panamanian Nationals

    Canal Officially Exchanges Ownership to Panamanian Nationals
  • Sources (1/3)

    Abbott, Franky. “The Panama Canal.” 2015. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, (Accessed October 28, 2022.) Frenkel, Stephen. “Jungle Stories: North American Representations of Tropical Panama.” Geographical Review 86, no. 3 (1996): 317–33.
  • Sources (2/3)

    Watson, Stephanie. "Building the Panama Canal." In 1900 to 1949, edited by Neil Schlager and Josh Lauer, 535-538. Vol. 6 of Science and Its Times. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2000. Gale eBooks (accessed October 27, 2022). Zumoff, J. A. “Black Caribbean Labor Radicalism in Panama, 1914-1921.” Journal of Social History 47, no. 2 (2013): 429–57.
  • Sources (3/3)

    "Theodore Roosevelt, the Panama Canal, and the Roosevelt Corollary." A Companion to Theodore Roosevelt. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Accessed November 18, 2022. Rankin, Monica A. "Panama Railroad." Encyclopedia of Early Modern Latin America (1820s to 1900). Facts On File, 2017. Accessed November 17, 2022.