The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal cuts through the isthmus of Panama and connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Prior to the canals construction the fastest way to travel by ship from New York to California would have been to round the tip of South America, a long and dangerous route. After the success of the Suez Canal in Egypt the French believed that they could connect another two seas with as little difficulty. Unfortunetly they did not realise the difference between digging quantities of sand in a dry flat area and removing vast quantities of rock from the middle of a jungle. Technical problems and high mortality rates from tropical diseases eventually forced the French to give up.
President Teddy Roosevelt of the US felt that America could complete the project, and he thus took control of it. The first success of the Americans was in eliminating the noxious Yellow Fever that had been killing so many workers. The work on the canal was still hard a grueling, but great progress was made.
When the canal openend in 1914 it was a technological marvel. A complex series of Locks let even large ship pass through. The canal was an important strategic and economic asset to the US and one that revolutionized world shipping patterns. The canal and the area surrounding it were kept by the United States until president Jimmy Carter eventually conceded to Panamanian demands and agreed the US would eventually pull-out. This occured in 1999 and the canal is now under Panamanian jurisdiction.