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Panama Canal

Panama CanalThe dream of Spanish conquistadors and the failed ambition of famed French canal builder Ferdinand de Lesseps, the Panama Canal is one of civil engineering's greatest triumphs. Under the direction of U.S. Col. George Washington Goethals, 42,000 workers dredged, blasted and excavated the path stretching from Colon to Balboa. They moved enough earth and rubble to bury the island of Manhattan to a depth of 12-feet, or enough to open a 16-foot-wide tunnel to the center of the Earth.

The canal was finished on time and within budget. Despite this, after completion a challenge remained: How to tame the flood waters of the Chagres River, known to rise 25-feet in a single day during monsoon season? The engineers' solution was to erect a dam that, at the time, formed the world's largest man-made lake. The Canal operates as regularly today as it did in 1914. In each transit, 52 million gallons of fresh water is lost, but quickly replaced by Panama's heavy rainfall. The canal remains a testament to the combined skills of structural, geotechnical, hydraulic and sanitary engineers.

ASCE has also named the Panama Canal a Monument of the Millenium and a International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  Return to the Seven Wonders of the Modern World directory