NASA view of the canal looking west
NASA view of the canal looking west

Essential Question: What methods did the U.S. use to establish and expand its empire?

Event Summary

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

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama from Digital History

Theodore Roosevelt and the Panama Canal from PBS American Experience

Panama Canal under construction, 1907

  • During the Spanish-American War, the battleship Oregon took 68 days to get from the Puget Sound to Cuba, but with a canal it could have been shortened to 20 days.
  • As a result of the war, the US decided to build a canal through Panama.
  • After an unsuccessful attempt by the French in 1860, the US in 1902 gave President Roosevelt authority to move ahead.
  • In 1903 Secretary of State John Hay tried to sign a canal treaty but

Colombia changed its mind and refused to sign. With help from the French and the US, the Panama revolt occurred on November 3, 1903. On November 6, the US recognized
  • The greatest obstacle in building the canal was malaria and yellow fever
  • first 2 years of building involve clearing brush and draining swamps where mosquitoes bred
  • The canal took 10 years to build
  • Cost nearly $400 million dollars
  • Completed in 1914 just as WWI was beginning
  • The canal is considered one of the greatest engineering feats of all time
Multimedia.png Multimedia Resources:
Make the Dirt Fly , an online exhibit on the building of the canal from the Smithsonian Institution.
A short video about the construction of the Panama Canal

The Building of the Panama Canal from Seven Wonders of the World series from the BBC

First Transit on the Panama Canal

The Great Nicaragua Postage Stamp War is a story about how a stamp resulted in the building of the Panama canal.

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primary_sources.PNG Primary Sources:

Treaty of Peace Between the United States and Spain (December 10, 1898)

The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty (1903)

Panama Canal Proposal, 1881, a letter by Ulysses S. Grant

Roosevelt's Message to Congress, December 17, 1906 from PBS American Experience

The Story of the Panama Canal, 1927, a film from the Roosevelt Film Library made available by the Library of Congress

100 Years of the Panama Canal in 10 Photos

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  • The Question of an American Empire from EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • This lesson plan teaches students about U.S. intervention in Latin America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Visit here for teaching materials to accompany PBS's American Experience special on the building of the Panama Canal.

The Canal and Malaria

Spraying kerosene oil to kill mosquitoes, 1912
Spraying kerosene oil to kill mosquitoes, 1912

rotating gif.gifSee Special Topic Page on Malaria

The Panama Canal and Malaria from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Yellow Fever and Malaria in the Canal from American Experience

Mosquitoes, Malaria and the Panama Canal by David McCullough from his book, The Path Between the Seas

rotating gif.gif For more on the Spanish American War and American imperialism