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The Panama Canal, a 48 mile (77.1 kilometre) ship canal that connects the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, is celebrating 100 years since it opened. Caterpillar products have been involved in the construction and expansion of the canal throughout its history.
France began work on the construction of the Panama Canal in 1881, but had to stop in 1889 because of engineering problems and high mortality among workers due to disease. After years of debate, the United States took control of the Canal project in 1904. Inheriting a number of buildings, infrastructure and equipment in poor condition, the U.S. established the Isthmian Canal Commission for the Panama Canal (ICC) to oversee the construction.
The first ship passed through the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914, signaling completion of the project. Approximately 1,000 ships traveled through the canal’s first year. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal greatly reduced the time needed for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
In the years since, several projects have helped to widen and expand the Panama Canal.
The Isthmain Canal Commission for the Panama Canal construction project awarded their first steam shovel bid to Bucyrus (Caterpillar Inc. acquired Bucyrus International, Inc. on July 8, 2011). Bucyrus continued to win bids from the Canal Commission until Secretary of War and Ohio native, William Howard Taft, intervened on behalf of Bucyrus’ Ohio-based competitor, the Marion Steam Shovel Company. By the end of the project, The Bucyrus Company supplied 77 of the 102 shovels purchased. Marion Power Shovel was awarded bids for 24 shovels, and the Thew Automatic Shovel Company supplied one 32-ton excavator.
Teddy Roosevelt became the first U.S. President to make an official diplomatic tour outside the Continental United States. During that time he visited the Panama Canal construction site and operated the controls of a Bucyrus shovel.
Several Caterpillar machines helped widen sections of the Panama Canal.
Contractors used 75 Cat® machines on just the first two phases of a six-phase project to build a new single-lane, three-step lock system that will allow the Panama Canal to accommodate larger vessels.
Named one of the seven wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Panama Canal now sees over 14,000 vessels traveling through its locks and passages each year.