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The Panama Canal extends across the Isthmus of Panama from Colon on the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) side, to Balboa and the Pacific Ocean.
It was built in two stages; 1881-1888 by the French, followed by the Americans, with their efforts completed in 1914. In 1883 it was realized that the tide level at the Pacific side was almost 19 feet higher than the Atlantic side. Engineers concluded the difference in levels would be a danger to navigation. It was proposed that a tidal lock be constructed near Panama City to preserve the level from there to Colon.
Eventually, due to some new thinking, and in an effort to do it right the first time, it was decided that the original plan should be modified and a widely accepted lock system should be used.
As an example, when a ship traveling from the Atlantic side reaches the Gatun Locks, a series of three locks raise that ship about 85 ft. to Gatun Lake. Then it's a 40 mile trip to the locks at Pedro Miguel, locks that lower the ship 30 feet. At the Miraflores locks the ship is lowered an additional 52 feet to Pacific Ocean sea level.
During the invasion of Panama by the United States in 1989, in their successful effort to remove the de facto ruler General Manuel Noriega from office, the canal was closed for the first time in its history. Managed for decades by the U.S, the canal was returned to Panama on December 31, 1999.
Panama Canal Photos here
This page was last updated on January 3, 2018.