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The Panama Canal

Primary Source Set

Beginning with sixteenth-century European explorers, travelers and traders in the Americas dreamed of direct route to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. That dream would become a reality with the construction of the Panama Canal, a forty-eight mile ship canal across the Isthmus of Panama. The new passage allowed ships to cross in six to eight hours and avoid the long, treacherous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America. Although the canal project was started by France in 1881, the United States purchased French equipment and excavations in Panama in 1904 and began construction. A decade later, after political struggles, changes in leadership, 375 million dollars in spending, and the death of an estimated 5,600 workers, the project was complete. This primary source set includes photographs, documents, maps, and footage that can be used to explore the stories of environmental issues, political struggle, and human labor that built the Panama Canal.

Additional resources for research

  1. Theodore Roosevelt and the Panama Canal, PBS American Experience.

  2. Building the Panama Canal, 1903-1914, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian.

  3. The Story of the Panama Canal, the Library of Congress.

Send feedback about this primary source set or our other educational resources to education@dp.la.