Panama Canal Timeline

November 17, 2012 

1881

French begin construction of Panama Canal.

1882

The French hire 30,000 West Indians to work on construction.

1889

Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French diplomat directing construction, abandons the project. Some 20,000 people have died, mostly from malaria and yellow fever, during the eight-year endeavor. Another 5,000 would die during the U.S. construction phase.

1898

U.S. Asst. Naval Secretary Theodore Roosevelt supports a canal crossing Panama.

1902

U.S. Senate votes in favor of Panama, rather than Nicaragua, as site for a canal through Central America.

1903

Panama declares independence from Colombia and the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty is signed granting the U.S. a narrow strip of land across the Isthmus of Panama and the right to build a canal.

1904

he United States buys canal equipment and infrastructure from the French for $40 million and acquires control of the Panama Canal Zone from Panama for $10 million. The U.S. dollar becomes Panama’s official currency. Construction begins on the canal.

1909

Work begins on the locks, which are 80 feet high and 100 feet long.

Aug. 15, 1914

The 50-mile-long canal opens to ship traffic. SS Ancon is the first ship to traverse the waterway.

1948

Some 10,000 protestors oppose the presence of U.S. military bases on Panamanian soil. U.S. evacuates its bases and military installations outside the Canal Zone.

1964

A tumultuous year in which anti-U.S. rioting erupts, including the so-called flag riots. Students at Balboa High raise the U.S. flag in defiance of a 1963 ban against flying any flags in front of Canal-Zone schools — a measure adopted to ease growing tension over U.S. control of the zone. Panamanian students march to the school and attempt to raise their flag, which gets torn. Scuffling and then full-scale violence breaks out on the border between Panama City and the canal zone and then spreads across the country. Twenty-one Panamanians and three U.S. soldiers are killed in the clashes.

Panama briefly breaks relations with the U.S. and demands the canal treaty be renegotiated.

1973-74

Negotiations on a more equitable canal agreement take place under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

1977

During the Carter administration, negotiations are completed for new canal treaties that call for the eventual turnover of the canal to Panama.

1979

Panama Canal Treaties, which return the Canal Zone but not the canal to Panama, become law.

1989

The United States sends 24,000 troops to oust Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega in an operation that has been described as part drug raid, part war.

1997

Creation of Panama Canal Authority and the U.S. Southern Command pulls out and moves its operations to Doral.

Dec, 31, 1999

The canal is returned to Panama.

1998

Panama begins planning to enlarge the canal to accommodate larger post Panamax ships.

Oct. 22, 2006

Panamanians vote for the $5.25 billion expansion project.

2009

Contracts awarded for various parts of the expansion. The largest, a $3.2 billion contract for construction of new locks, is awarded to a consortium that includes Spain, Panama, Belgium and Italy.

June 30, 2010

Expansion work on third set of locks begins. Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli says, “Today a new future begins for the country.’’

April 2015

Target date for completion of the expansion — six months beyond the date in the contract.

Sources: Miami Herald staff, Panama-Guide, Panama Canal Museum website

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service