US Involvement in the Panama Canal and Its Significance

Panama was territory of Columbia until 1903 when the US supported a revolution that led to its independence. The new government of Panama subsequently authorized French businessman, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, to meet with the US and negotiate some type of treaty about what to do with the land. At this point, there was a mandatory need to establish an efficient canal and the US was just the country to do it; the US had the resources and it sought a way that would allow it to guard its investments in the region.[1] The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty permitted the U.S. to construct the Panama Canal and supplied for continuous control of an area, five-miles wide, on each side of the canal

The successful construction of the Panama Canal occurred between the years of 1904-1914. Teddy Roosevelt paid 40 million dollars for the 50-mile wide stretch of land. Roosevelt appointed John Findlay Wallace as Chief Engineer of the project. This is where the lock system was born. The failed attempts at a sea-level canal had clearly failed in the past. Therefore, the engineers developed a canal, which had a large dam and lake system that included three double sets of locks, which would raise ships to the water level of the locks. Once through the canal, the ship would be lowered into the other ocean and sail to its destination.

Once the canal was built, it provided an incentive to develop a commercial region around the canal. It was necessary to build a community and establish a city system for the workers of Panama. The canal provided a prime location and opportunity for travelers, hence hotels, housing, water systems, and other infrastructure became core considerations for the region. Once such developments came into place, the Panamanian economy achieved growth around the trade that ensued.

In addition to rebuilding and expanding what the French had started, the U.S. took on the task of the Panama Railroad. The railway currently connects the Atlantic to the Pacific on a 48-mile stretch. The railroad served as a key element in the construction of the canal, which ended up taking about half a century. The rail followed a parallel route to the canal construction and contributed to an increase in traffic around 1849 due to the California Gold Rush. After WWII however, there were few improvements made to the rail hence its use was restricted since it could not serve the needs of the modern transport systems. In 1979, the US gave up rights to the railroad and returned it back to the Panamanian government control. The railroad is currently a single track with several intersections for two-way trains. They handle large-sized shipping containers, which assist the canal in order to transport more efficiently. In addition to shipping purposes, the railroad also has numerous fleets of historic passenger cars for tourists.

[1] J. F. Hornbeck. “Panama’s Canal and Economic Relations with the United States.” Congressional Research Service, report. 10/17 (2011): 4-8

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