The French originally attempted to build a sea level canal, commencing in 1882, but they ran into many problems. After about 10 years, 30,000 deaths, $400,000,000.00 lost and little progress, the French abandoned the project. Malaria and yellow fever were are the culprits but nobody understood these diseases at that time. The assumption was that the employees were drinking too much.
About 1902 President Roosevelt decided he wanted to have access to both oceans by a short route for his Navy, so the canal idea was resurrected. At that time, this area was controlled by Columbia and the Colombians refused to give America access to the peninsula. Interestingly, an uprising occurred and Panama became an independent territory. I will let your imagination and Mrs. Google solve that mystery. A long-term agreement was negotiated with the new Panamanian authorities and the project was on.
By the way, Roosevelt had considered building a canal through Nicaragua, but due to volcanic risk, the project was not pursued. This alternate route was still used as a bargaining chip to soften up the Colombians in their negotiations.
Roosevelt hired two civilian engineers to manage the project but first they had to solve the disease problem. (Dr. Carlos Finley, from Cuba, identified the problem of yellow fever and malaria being communicated via mosquitoes.) After two years, these engineers resigned and Roosevelt was furious. To solve the problem, he decided to assign the project to the core of army engineers so they couldn’t quit on him. The canal was built belie budget and on time as it opened in 1914.
The Caribbean side of the canal starts in the town of Colon, where John McCain was born, and utilizes three locks to elevate ships 85 feet above sea level. Each lock is 110 feet wide by 1000 feet long. Water is supplied from the surrounding rain forest which receives about 200 inches of rain per year. And artificial 160 mi.² lake was formed by the set of locks on either end of the canal. Reversing the process on the Pacific side gets ships back to sea level. Transit through the canal system takes about eight hours, due to the large volume of traffic, and the queuing required to secure a place in line.
A third Panama Canal channel was completed in 2016, which contains 180’ x 1400’ locks capable of handling the largest ships afloat. Three large bridges currently cross the Panama Canal, with the first one, chronologically, being the Pan-American bridge on the Pacific coast, then the Centennial bridge in the middle and the almost completed Eastern bridge near Colon on the Caribbean side.
Note the spectacular vista of Panama City off to the South of the canal.
Entering the Panama Canal from the Caribbean Sea, at Colon.
Note the extensive use of anchor bolts to stabilize this fractured mountain.
Panama City looms over the exit of the Panama into the Pacific.