The Panama Canal

In 1881, a company from which country began the construction of the Panama Canal?

And the answer: France.    

Photo credit: © Ovidiu Craciun/

In 1881, French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps, whose team built the Suez Canal in Egypt, led the first efforts to construct the Panama Canal. However, after 9 years and a loss of 20,000 lives due to tropical diseases and other unexpected challenges, the project went bankrupt. Soon after, the United States took over the project, and completed it in 1914.

It wasn't until Teddy Roosevelt took office in 1904 that the Panama Canal began to truly take shape. After the French efforts to dig out the region resulted in complications and bankruptcy, the project sat dormant for nearly a decade. However, Roosevelt had new ambitions.

When construction restarted, Panama was still under Colombian jurisdiction. The terms of American effort required complete sovereignty of the project – something that Colombia was unwilling to grant. As a result, America turned to Panama directly and proposed a revolution. Backed by America's massive warships and military power, the country of Panama was formed, and a treaty granting complete power of the canal to the United States was signed.

A series of locks were created on either end of the canal to raise and lower passing boats to and from sea level. Hundreds of miles of jungle, towns and railroads were flooded to create a lake large enough to supply constant water to the canal. In 1914, construction was complete. The first ocean-to-ocean liner passed through – albeit with little fanfare. That very same day, Germany declared war on France, marking the beginning of World War I.

Learn more about the creation and history of the Panama Canal below.

Question of the Day Mobile App


Learn something new everyday. Get the Question of the Day delivered to your inbox each day!

You've successfully subscribed to Question of the Day
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to Question of the Day
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.