The Panama Canal: Celebrating 100 Years with 100 Facts

Philip DiPatrizioOcean Freight1 Comment

Ship sailing through the Panama Canal

How much do you know about the Panama Canal?  Did you know that a man once swam the length of the Canal and had to pay a toll of 36 cents while doing so?  Did you know that TODAY (August 15, 2014) is the 100 year anniversary of the Panama Canal?  That’s right, 100 years ago today, the Panama Canal began operations.

Completing the canal took many years and cost thousands of lives, but to this day, it plays an extremely significant role in world trade.  So we thought we’d do something special in honor the Panama Canal’s 100th birthday!

We scoured the internet high and low in search of 100 facts about the Panama Canal.  We’ll be the first to admit that it was quite an ambitious goal, but we did it!  Some are common knowledge, but most are rare and obscure.

Think you’ve got a fact we don’t know about?  Find a mistake on our list?!  Or maybe you just want to share your favorite Panama Canal fact with the world!  Don’t be shy; let us know in the comments below.

Without further ado…

Celebrating 100 years of the Panama Canal
  1. The Panama Canal is one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
  2. The famous Panama palindrome! “A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!” (A palindrome is a word or phrase that is spelled the same forwards and backwards. Check it for yourself!).
  3. When the Canal first opened it only had about 1,000 ships crossing annually.
  4. The average amount of ships to cross the Panama Canal yearly is somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000.
  5. Over 1 million vessels (and counting) have crossed the Canal.
  6. For passenger ships, the fee is determined by water displacement.
  7. Due to a landslide in 1915, the canal was closed for several months.
  8. Before the Canal was completed, ships had to take a very dangerous and long route below South America.
  9. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, the cargo volume of 2025 is expected to be double what it was in 2005, growing at a rate of approximately 3% per year.
  10. Cargo ships pay their fees according to their weight by volume.
  11. More than 60 million pounds of dynamite was used to excavate and construct the canal.
  12. The same toll rate was used for 70 years before they were finally increased.
  13. About 20,000 French and 6,000 American workers died during the construction of the Panama Canal.
  14. Aside from diseases, food and water shortages were also reasons for the passing of many workers during the construction of the Canal.
  15. A site in Nicaragua was originally considered before Panama was chosen.
  16. In 2011, the Norwegian Pearl paid the highest toll to date, a staggering $375,600 USD.
  17. The biggest ship that can pass through the Canal (pre-expansion) is 965 feet long x 106 feet wide x 39 ½ feet deep.
  18. Post-expansion, the biggest ship that will be able to pass through the Canal is 1,200 feet long x 160 feet wide x 50 feet deep.
  19. The first vessel to pass through the canal was Ancon, a cargo ship, on August 15, 1914
  20. In order to pass through the canal, ships need a reservation, if not it can take several days.
  21. The canal is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  22. The estimated cost for the expansion of the Panama Canal is $5.25 billion USD.
  23. The completion of the Canal required the use of 5 million cubic yards of concrete.
  24. The United States excavated approximately 232 million cubic yards of soil during construction.
  25. The tide on the Pacific side of the Canal is 20 feet (6 meters) high
  26. The tide on the Atlantic side of the Canal is 2.5 feet (.76 meters) high.
  27. Approximately 40 ships pass through the Panama Canal every day.
  28. Connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans
  29. Travels through the Isthmus of Panama.
  30. There are locks that lift ships up to an artificial lake (Gatun Lake).
  31. In order to reduce excavation work required, the man-made Gatun Lake was created.
  32. Gatun Lake was created 85 feet (26 meters) above sea level.
  33. Gatun Lake is 164 square miles.
  34. The locks that lift ships up to Gatun Lake are 110 feet (33.5 meters) wide
  35. It took about 20 years to build the locks, if you include the first attempt by the French.
  36. Each door of the locks weighs 750 tons.
  37. The Canal consists of three locks: the Miraflores (2 steps, 4 chambers), the Pedro Miguel (1 step and 2 chambers), and the Gatun (3 steps and 6 chambers).
  38. In total, there are 12 pairs of locks through the Canal.
  39. 52 million gallons of water fills each lock.
  40. The Canal is 48 miles (77.1 km) long.
  41. Artificial lakes and channels are key components of the Canal.
  42. The French had originally planned to build a sea-level canal but was forced to eventually abandon those plans.
  43. The United States came up with the idea to use locks.
  44. Another lock will be added in 2015.
  45. Many ships have been designed specifically to fit within the limits of the Panama Canal.
  1. France started working on the canal in 1881.
  2. The French excavated over 78 million cubic yards of soil.
  3. Only 29.9 million cubic yards of what the French excavated is actually useful to the present Panama Canal.
  4. Because of high death rates due to diseases and engineering problems, France had to stop working on the Canal.
  5. American interest in taking over the Canal project rose sharply in 1848 with the discovery of gold in California.
  6. In 1904, the U.S. officially took over the construction of the canal.
  7. The United States worked on the canal for 10 years.
  8. The grand opening of the canal was August 15, 1914.
  9. The completion of the Panama Canal meant that traveling by ocean from New York City to San Francisco introduced a savings of nearly 8,000 miles.
  10. It takes each ship about 8 to 10 hours to travel the length of the Panama Canal.
  11. The U.S. Navy’s Hydrofoil Pegasus traveled the Canal faster than any other vessel, with a record time of 2 hours 41 minutes. This was accomplished back in 1979.
  12. The construction of the Panama Canal by the United States was overseen by the Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC). President Roosevelt created the ICC on March 3, 1904.
  13. The United States sent 100 men to Panama (and then to Colombia) in 1875 to survey the areas for a potential canal route.
  14. The United States initially said that it would be too costly to build a Canal in Panama and instead suggested a canal in Nicaragua.
  15. The House of Representatives voted 308-2 to pursue the Nicaraguan canal.
  16. The Nicaraguan canal that the United States proposed in 1875 would have consisted of 12 locks on both ends with 10 miles of aqueducts to supply water to the summit level.
  17. In 1877 the French also surveyed Panama for a canal.
  18. The French government approved a sea-level canal plan in 1879. The plan was developed by Ferdinand de Lesseps and it would have cost the French 1,200,000,000 francs ($240,000,000 USD).
  19. During construction of the Canal, thousands of people lost their lives.
  20. The Canal finally opened 45 years after the United States first considered building a canal through Central America.
  21. 22,500 West Indians were working on the canal by the end of 1905.
  22. In 1905, the United States had made a tremendous amount of excavation progress, yet still had not decided on the best way to build the Canal.
  23. The Report of the Consulting Engineers for the Panama Canal was the first representation of the idea to use locks. The report cited overwhelming amounts of time and money in order to dig the Canal down to sea level.
  24. In 1908, 23 people were killed along with 40 more injured after 22 tons of dynamite was accidentally detonated.
  25. At the peak of the Canal’s construction, there was a total of over 46,000 men working on it.
  26. 350 additional miles of track were built along the Panama Railroad to expedite spoil removal.
  27. The entire length of the Panama Railroad was double tracked to allowed two-way train traffic.
  28. The 2nd Chief Engineer on the project, John Stevens, wrote a letter to President Roosevelt that stated that the canal is, “to me… only a big ditch.” Roosevelt accepted that letter as Stevens’ resignation.
  29. Want to see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic from the same location? The only place you can do that from is Panama.
  30. You can swim in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean in the same day in Panama.
  31. One-third of Panama’s economy is generated by the Canal.
  32. Florescent lighting was installed in 1963, which allowed the canal to be operating 24 hours a day.
  33. Richard Haliburton, an American adventurer, swam the length of the Canal in 1928.
  34. To swim the length of the canal, Richard Haliburton paid 36 cents as his toll.
  35. The territory where the Panama Canal is located was originally Colombian, then French, then American, and eventually Panamanian.
  36. 65 ships transiting the Canal was the most traffic in one day, occurring on Feb 29, 1968.
  37. Excavation of the canal was equal to digging a 10 foot deep, by 55 foot wide, trench from California to New York.
  38. In 1974, the Canal increased its toll rates for the first time.
  39. In 1534, the Spanish government drew up plans for a Panama Canal that were very similar to what was eventually constructed.
  40. The average amount of rain on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Canal is 130 inches per year.
  41. The average amount of rain on the Pacific Ocean side of the Canal is 70 inches per year.
  42. The Spanish translation of Panama Canal is Canal de Panamá.
  43. The United States and Panama signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty, which guaranteed Panama its independence from the United States and secured a perpetual lease on a 10-mile strip for the canal. Panama was to be compensated by an initial payment of $10 million and an annuity of $250,000, beginning in 1913. This strip is now known as the Canal Zone.
  44. The Canal Zone is 10 miles wide.
  45. The total area of the Canal Zone is 436 square miles.
  46. 68% of the canal’s traffic is either coming from or going to the United States.
  47. Four percent of trade from the world and sixteen percent of trade from the U.S. is transported through the canal.
  48. The canal does not run East and West, it runs North and South.
  49. The toll to pass through the canal stays the same whether you go through one end to the other or you turn around half way.
  50. The largest ships that can pass through the canal are referred to as Panamax.
  51. It took more than 4 1/2 million cubic yards of concrete to construct the locks and dams.
  52. Aside from the U.S., the countries that transit the Canal the most are China, Japan, Chile, and North Korea.
  53. Although the Panama citizens believed the Canal was solely theirs, it was not until December 31, 1999 at midnight that the country finally received full control of the Canal.
  54. It cost the United States about $382 million USD to finalize the Canal and locks system.
  55. The Panama Canal is self-powered. There are 3 dams that produce all the electricity needed to power everything.
Philip DiPatrizio
Philip joined LILLY + Associates in February 2014 as the head of Internet marketing and is a strong believer in crafting the perfect message that people will connect with. Goal oriented and data driven, you'll often find him taking long walks through website analytics and having candlelit dinners with spreadsheets.

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