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On August 15th, 1914, thePanama Canalopened, connecting the world’s two largest oceans and signaling America’s emergence as a global superpower. 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 more 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.Panama Canalfeatures a fascinating cast of characters ranging from the indomitable Theodore Roosevelt, who saw the Canal as the embodiment of American might and ingenuity, to Colonel William Gorgas, an army doctor who instituted a revolutionary public health campaign that all but eradicated Yellow Fever, to the visionary engineers who solved the seemingly impossible problem of cutting a 50 mile long slice through mountains and jungle. The film also delves into the lives of the thousands of workers, rigidly segregated by race, who left their homes to sign on for an unprecedented adventure. In the Canal zone, skilled positions were reserved for white workers while a predominantly West Indian workforce did the backbreaking manual labor, cutting brush, digging ditches and loading and unloading equipment and supplies. Using an extraordinary archive of photographs and footage, rare interviews with canal workers, and firsthand accounts of life in the Canal zone,Panama Canalunravels the remarkable story of one of the world’s most daring and significant technological achievements.Exclusive corporate funding for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is provided by Liberty Mutual. Major funding is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Panama Canal has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Because democracy demands wisdom. Additional funding is provided by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by public television viewers.Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.Narrator:It’s been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World a manmade waterway, 50 miles long that forever altered the face of the earth. If in 1904 you had asked me to put money, I would have said ‘No, it cannot be built.’ Nobody knew how this was gonna be done.Carlos E. With the building of the Panama Canal, the realization of a dream became an expression of the power, the strength, the might of a growing nation.Narrator:For nearly a hundred years, the Panama Canal has stood for the triumph of technology over nature. But when it was built, at the dawn of the 20th century, it was simply an audacious gamble a colossal engineering project, the likes of which the world had never seen.Marco A. Mason, Panamanian Council of New York:It’s a story of inspiration. It’s a story of humanity. What man can endure with pick and shovel to dig the canal.Carol R. Byerly, Historian:It used science and engineering and government to improve the country and really improve the world. But it has a dark side as well. Itdemonstrated an extraordinary will and determination. They had succeeded in conquering nature as no one had ever done before.Narrator:In early July 1905,
an American steamship made its way toward the isthmus of Panama the narrow ribbon of land between North and South America, and the two largest oceans in the world.A Dutchman by birth, Jan was a newly minted citizen of the United States, and a fierce champion of his adopted country.”In America,” he liked to say, “anythingis possible.” The building of the Panama Canal would be no exception.Jan van Hardeveld (Josh Hamilton):A heavy suitcase in my hand the sweat rolling down my face, I stumbled along the wet slippery track which I had been told to follow until I found a place to turn off. In the deep darkness I seemed to have walked miles, and I never dreamed there could be such unearthly noises. To me, they sounded like the howling of demons. Well, I decided that turning back looked almost as hard as going on, so here I am.Narrator:Jan van Hardeveldwas just one of hundreds of young Americans now living on the isthmus of Panama. They’d been arriving for months from San Diego, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Charlotte former railroad engineers and file clerks and recent college graduates all of them eager to be part of what one observer called America’s “mighty march of progress.”Jackson Lears, Historian:At this particular moment, there’s a lot of positive thinking going on in the United States. There are these sort of iconic structures, the transcontinental railroad, the Brooklyn Bridge, all of them accomplishing feats that naysayers had predicted could not be done. So there is this fascination with human triumph over adversity. Americans feel that we are at the cutting edge. Thiswas the great, unfulfilled engineering challenge of the world.Narrator:For nearly 400 years, people had dreamed of building a canal that would slice through the slender isthmus of Panama and make the world’s great oceans meet.The French had been the first to try. The year was 1880, and Ferdinand de Lesseps, the legendary builder of the Suez Canal, was looking for a second act.Frederick E. Allen, Editor,American Heritage:Well, Ferdinand de Lesseps was a great national hero, who had done this great, magnificent thing of building the Suez Canal. He was seen as incredibly virile. And he was endlessly touring the country where he’d pull in huge crowds to come and see this, the hero of Suez.Frederick E.Narrator:Despite the warnings of experts who said it could not be done, De Lesseps directed his engineers to carve a canal through the isthmus. They spent the next eight and a half years locked in a losing battle against the jungle. There were fires, there was flooding, there was an earthquake. There was continuous epidemic of yellow fever. There was a huge amount ofcorruption.Narrator:When the crash of de Lesseps’ venture finally came, in 1888, it was thunderous. In less than a decade, more than a billion francs about $287 million had been all but squandered.Meanwhile, accidents and disease had claimed a staggering 20,000 lives most of them West Indians who had been imported to do the heavy labor. De Lesseps, the one time hero of France, was bankrupted and only narrowly escaped prison.