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Panama Canal

Cruise ships in Panama Canal locks 

Panama Canal diagramConstruction of the Panama Canal began in 1904, and on May 4 of that year, the United States agreed to take ownership of the project--in both human and financial resources. The first ship traversed the canal on August 15, 1914.

The 48 mile ship canal in Panama joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Initially, around 1,000 ships used the canal each year, however 14,702 vessels traversed it in 2008.

One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the canal had an enormous impact on shipping between the two oceans, replacing the long and treacherous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the canal travels 5,900 miles, well under half the 14,000-mile route around Cape Horn.

The size of the locks determines the maximum size of ships allowed passage. The maximum ship size allowed to go through the canal are called Panamax.

Visit the Monuments of the Millennium feature to learn more about the Panama Canal, and other civil engineering feats.