Review: The Path Between the Seas
The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Here was some "change-of-pace" reading for me.
The historian who brought you 1776 and John Adams was already at it 25 years ago, writing of the Panama Canal. What a fascinating story!
A French visionary had the idea first, but he was an idealist and the huge scheme ran out of money, leaving many French bankrupt for his pains.
The Americans took it over, at Teddy Roosevelt's behest. The intrigues are wonderful. Although the French had begun in Panama, most Americans wanted a canal through Nicaragua. (It was closer for American trade.) The vote in the Senate was 42 to 34 for Panama over Nicaragua.
But then Colombia played hardball, and got greedy. So TR welcomed a Panamanian revolution, bringing better terms for the US of A.
Then there was the building itself. The work was of such a scale that the main thing was not the main thing. Digging was pressed over everything else at first, mainly by TR, but it backfired. Provision for workers via the infrastructure was chaotic, morale poor, and disease high.
Once the leadership gave the doctors free reign to combat the mosquito, everything turned around. 5600 died from disease and accident under the Americans, and 20-25 thousand altogether - 500 for every mile of the canal.
262 million cubic yards of earth were moved, four times the original estimate.
$639 million dollars were spent, which doesn't seem like much now. But all national territorial acquisitions up to then (Louisiana, Florida, California, Alaska, etc) was $75 million, combined! Wages for the low level digger were 10 cents an hour, 10 hours a day. 61 million pounds of dynamite were used.
The locks are 110 feet wide, 81 feet high walls, and 1000 feet long, making the largest equipment there look miniature in scale. It took 2 million cubic yards of concrete poured. The engineering feat was marvelous.
The First World War broke out just as the canal was finished.
Today, the canal handles about 15,000 ships a year, over 100 million tons, collecting $100 million in toll revenue.
The engineer for the Sault Ste. Marie locks worked on Panama, too.
One of the CEOs of the project went on to reorganize the Trans-Siberian railway later.
The fascinating facts go on and on.
This was not just a wow from the technical and engineering side, but also very interesting from the sociological aspect of nations and banks involved in visions cast of the largest of projects.
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