The 1904-1914 construction of the Panama Canal, the 50-mile link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, is recalled via archival footage, photos and interviews with workers, as well as insights from historians. The undertaking cost the U.S. about $375 million and 5609 workers (out of 56,307), who perished from both accidents and disease. The documentary also explores what life was like for the workers, who were a mix of Americans, Europeans and West Indians.
On August 15th, 1914, the Panama Canal opened, connecting the world’s two largest oceans and signaling America’s emergence as a global superpower. American ingenuity and innovation had succeeded where, fifteen years earlier, the French had failed disastrously. But the U.S. paid a price for victory: a decade of ceaseless, grinding toil, an outlay of more than 350 million dollars -- the largest single federal expenditure in history to that time -- and the loss of more than 5,000 lives. Along the way, Central America witnessed the brazen overthrow of a sovereign government, the influx of over 55,000 workers from around the globe, the removal of hundreds of millions of tons of earth, and engineering innovation on an unprecedented scale. The construction of the Canal was the epitome of man’s mastery over nature and signaled the beginning of America’s domination of world affairs.
The second half of the 19th century was a time of expansion and great technological advancement. Americans built the Brooklyn Bridge and completed the Transcontinental Railroad. The French had constructed the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1869 and set their sights on a canal through the Panamanian Isthmus. But after eight years of earthquakes, floods and disease-stunted progress, the French returned home bankrupt. The canal project would lay abandoned for nearly 15 years.
When President Theodore Roosevelt came to office in 1901, he saw the creation and control of the canal as the key to America projecting itself as a world powe