The Panama Canal The French began to work on February 1, 1881 on canal that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean directly through Panama. The builder of the Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps, headed the project. His plan was for the fifty-mile in length canal to go parallel with the Panama Railroad. He estimated the project would be $132 million and would take 12 years to complete.
As the need for this canal grew greater and greater President Grant sent 7 expeditions to study the canal. The trip from New York to San Francisco was 13,000 miles and took months because the ship would have to go all the way around South America. Not only would the canal save time and money, but it was also believed by de Lesseps that the Panama Canal would make stockholders rich.
As the French commenced digging on January 22, 1882 problems came one after another.
The work crew consisted of Black and Indian laborers and the crew, using the most modern equipment such as steam shovels, locomotive to tugboats and dredges. De Lesseps ignored warnings given by the engineers and decided to dam and divert the Chagres River. The Chagres grew to a monstrous water level and problems began. The equipment and workers started getting buried in mud. Then, disease came.
In 1881 there were sixty deaths from disease. In 1882 the number doubled. In 1883 the number rose to 420. Malaria and Yellow fever were the main killers. The company would usually lay-off employees with diseases to cut medical expenses. After thousands of deaths year after year the cause was attributed to virus-carrying mosquitoes. De Lesseps began being criticized as a, "Canal Digger or a Grave Digger?" After $287,000,000 had been spent, 11 miles of the canal dug, 20,000 men...