Atlantic and the Pacific are at an entirely different sea level, but that does not reduce our need for transporting goods between these two. We have been carrying goods from one side to the other through water for hundreds of years. That began in the time when there were no cars and airplanes, and shipping was the most reliable way of transportation, despite the numerous dangers involved.
In old days, the goods traveled to the other side, going all the way around South America and then to the other side. The strong waters of the ocean did not allow the weaker or smaller ships to get along and many sank on their way, for one reason or another. Engineers kept working to figure out ways that could make the journey safer and faster.
Some genius engineers came up with a clever solution. They decided to cut through the thick mass of land and join the oceans together. Thus, the Panama canal was built that uses an intricate system of locks for lifting ships 85 feet above the sea level. Opened for use on August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal was the biggest engineering project of its time. While the world enjoys its countless benefits to this day, it was laid with sacrifices of over 25,000 workers, who died during construction.
The idea for building the canal initially sprouted in the 16th century when Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa discovered that only a thin land bridge separated the two oceans. This is when Charles V, the Holy Roman emperor, ordered a survey to check the feasibility of building a ship canal, and the surveyors found this project to be ‘impossible’.
US held the control of the canal for many years, before it was finally transferred to Panama in 1999 after many disputes.
Every year, about 13,000 to 14,000 ships pass through the canal. The total number of ships having passed through the canal, since the opening in 1914, reached a million in 2010. About $1.8 billion in tolls are collected annually from the ships going through the canal.
Only mid sized cargo ships called Panamax can go through lock chambers of the Panama canal that measures 320 meters in length, 33.53 meters in width, and about 12.5 meters in depth. It takes about 8 to 10 hours for a ship to get through the canal and the ship captains are not allowed to do it on their own. A canal pilot, specially trained for the purpose, takes navigational control of every vessel and guides it through to the other end.
The Panama Canal is undoubtedly an engineering wonder, which has been serving the humankind for over a century, and the recent expansion projects have added more to its worth. It is important to remember that Panama Canal was not the first of its kind. The construction was followed by the Suez Canal that connected the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, and the operations began in 1869.