FADES BUT CONTINUES IN BACKGROUND
NARRATOR: Just as the Internet has made the world a smaller
place at the dawn of the 21st century, a
feat of engineering at least as significant
had a similar effect at the beginning of the
20th century. Nearly 100 years after it’s
completion, the Panama Canal still ranks
among the greatest of human endeavors – splitting
two continents and more importantly, bringing
two oceans together to enhance the commercial
and security interests of the Western
far back as the time of Columbus, men had sought
swifter passage to the other side of the world.
Yet, it wasn’t until the late 19th
century, when the French — buoyed by successful
construction of Egypt’s Suez Canal — undertook
the massive project with the idea of carving a
sea level canal through the shortest section of
the isthmus between North and South America.
But they had seriously underestimated its complexity.
From the beginning, the project was plagued with
physical and financial obstacles as well as tropical
diseases that devastated the work force.
the difficulties of positioning ships during
the Spanish-American War fresh in their minds,
the United States Congress under Theodore Roosevelt
enacted legislation to take over the project.
In his first message to Congress after becoming
president, Theodore Roosevelt said, "No
single great material work which remains to
be undertaken on this continent is of such consequence
to the American people as the Panama Canal."
$40 million, the US effectively bought out the
French operation — beginning their own
effort in 1904 — after helping Panama declare
independence from Colombia in exchange for control
of the Canal Zone. A key element of the task involved
a great investment in eliminating disease from
the area, particularly the yellow fever and malaria
that had cost so many French lives. Construction
with an improved design — incorporating
a series of locks and an elevated canal — began
in earnest. After 10 long years, the canal was
formally opened in 1914.
most visually impressive feature of the canal
is its locks. The lock chambers are 110 ft wide
by about 1000 ft long – limiting
the size of the ships that can use the canal.
This size is known as Panamax and is considerably
smaller than many of the freighters, naval ships
and even ocean liners that ply the seas today.
Each lock chamber requires 26 million gallons
of water to fill. Water from the Gatun Lake enters
the chambers by gravity through a system of culverts
when the upper valves are opened, filling a lock
chamber in approximately eight minutes.
The massive steel gates weigh as much as 745
tons, but are so well counterbalanced that a 40
hp engine is all that is needed to open and close
them. End gates on each set of locks are doubled
for safety in case of a gate failure, which could
release a devastating flood of water downstream.
Ships are hauled through the locks with small
railway engines called mules. They use powerful
winches to keep each ship centered in the lock
while moving it from chamber to chamber. With
as little as 2 feet of space on each side of a
ship, operation of the mules requires considerable
canal consists of two man-made lakes, several
improved and man-made channels, and three sets
of locks. The 2-stage Miraflores lock system
has a total lift of about 54 ft bringing ships
to the artificial Miraflores Lake. Next the
single-stage Pedro Miguel lock is lifts ships
another 31 ft up to the main level of the canal.
Then the Galliard Cut slices through the continental
divide at an altitude of 85 ft, where it passes
under the Centennial Bridge. With water from
the surrounding rainforests, the Chagres River — a natural waterway enhanced
by the damming of Lake Gatún — supplies
the millions of gallons of water needed for each
canal transit. Lake Gatún is one of the
world’s largest man-made lakes and carries
vessels 12 miles across the isthmus. The 3-stage
Gatún locks drop ships back down to sea
level on the Atlantic side after a total transit
of 50 miles, taking about eight to ten hours.
canal was one of the largest and most difficult
engineering projects ever undertaken, costing
nearly half a billion dollars and resulting
in the loss of nearly 25,000 lives due to disease
and accidents. As Teddy Roosevelt noted in an
address to the Canal workers in 1906, “in
the future it will only be necessary to say of
any man ‘He was connected with the digging
of the Panama Canal’ to confer the patent
of nobility upon that man.”
100 years later, the Panama Canal has proved
to be a critical commercial and strategic link
connecting the seas, cutting nearly 8,000 miles
off of a transit between the oceans and providing
safe passage for more than 12,000 ships each
year. Nearly 1 million ships – and
at least one swimmer - have passed through the
Canal since its completion. It remains one of
the most successful engineering projects of all
time. Even though world shipping — and the
size and design of ships themselves — have
changed beyond recognition since the Panama Canal
was designed, it not only continues to be a vital
thoroughfare in world trade, but is in fact carrying
more cargo and passengers than ever before.
COMES BACK UP THOUGH CREDITS AND FADE OUT