A sketch of an excavator at work on the Panama canal in Tabemilla in 1888.
The construction of the ship canal across the Isthmus of Panama transformed international trade, greatly reducing travel time between the Atlantic and the Pacific by eliminating the need for ships to go around the tip of South America. The decades-long project claimed the lives of an estimated 30,000 workers, many from diseases like malaria and yellow fever.
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt tests a steam shovel at the Culebra Cut during construction of the Panama Canal, a project he championed, in November 1906.
Roosevelt's visit to Panama made him the first sitting U.S. president to travel abroad. His enthusiasm for the "big ditch" spurred the isthmus to proclaim its independence from Colombia in 1903 and sign a treaty granting perpetual control of the future waterway and adjacent 550-square mile canal zone to the United States.
Workers loading concrete into buckets on flat-bed rail cars at a concrete plant in Gatun, Panama Canal, circa 1907. At the Gatun Lock on the Atlantic side of the canal, workers poured enough concrete to build a wall eight feet wide, 12 feet high and 133 miles long.
Spanish laborers working on the Panama Canal in 1909. In 1903, the nation of Panama was born after the province rebelled against Colombia.
A Panama Canal worker spraying insecticide in an open ditch in an effort to kill mosquitoes carrying yellow fever and malaria. The insects plagued both French and U.S. efforts to build the canal.
Workers building one of the gates at the Gatun Lock on the Panama Canal, circa 1910. The canal has three sets of locks: Miraflores and Pedro Miguel on the Pacific side and Gatun on the Atlantic.
French workers using a U.S.-made Sleven dredging machine to dig near Empire, Panama, during the early construction of the Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal is shown under construction in this view looking north at Gatun Upper Locks and Forebay in Panama on Feb. 1, 1911.
Looking through locks before gates were placed at the Panama Canal Zone, circa 1912.
Gatun lock, looking toward the canal's Atlantic entrance, showing tugs, dredges, and barges ready for first lockage from sea level up into Lake Gatun at the Panama Canal, circa 1913.
The S.S. Ancon making the first official transit of the Panama Canal as part of the opening ceremony on August 15, 1914.
Ships pass through Gatun Lock in the Panama Canal, circa 1915.