Explore the Timeline

1502Christopher Columbus sails along the Atlantic coast of Panama searching for a waterway to the Pacific.
1513Balboa crosses the Isthmus and sees the Pacific Ocean.
1534King Charles V orders a survey of the Chagres River to see if a canal can be built across the Isthmus.
1811Alexander von Humboldt’s Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain spurs interest in a canal across Central America.
1835US President Andrew Jackson orders a U.S. Army team to study the feasibility of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. They conclude it would be nearly impossible.
1845November 10, 1845A.B. Nichols is born in Charleton, Massachusetts.
1848William Henry Aspinwall, John L. Stephens, and Henry Chauncy, New York businessmen, obtain the rights from New Grenada (present day Columbia, Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador) to build the Panama Railroad across the Isthmus
1850Construction begins on the Panama Railroad.
1855The Panama Railroad opens for business on Sunday, January 28. The first train runs from the Atlantic Ocean all the way across the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean. The railroad makes a fortune by charging excessively high prices to travelers headed to the California gold rush.
1869November 1869Ferdinand de Lesseps finishes building the Suez Canal in Egypt.
1879In late December, Ferdinand de Lesseps visits Panama to formally initiate construction of a sea-level canal under the French Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interocéanique de Panama.
1881In Havana, Cuba, Dr. Carlos Finlay identifies the mosquito as the carrier of yellow fever, but he is unable to prove his theory experimentally.
1886De Lesseps visits the canal for the second time to attempt to restore workers’ morale and investors’ confidence.
1889Ferdinand de Lesseps, beset by financial problems and difficulty of the undertaking, abandons his canal project. Over 20,000 people died during the effort and over 800,000 investors were financially ruined.
1894After negotiating a 10 year extension with Columbia, the reformulated Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama issues stock.
1898The Spanish American War impresses upon Americans the need for a canal across Panama as they followed news reports of the battleship Oregon steaming to the rescue on its 67-day, 12,000-mile journey from San Francisco to the Battle of Santiago Bay in Cuba.
1899President William McKinley forms the U.S. Isthmian Canal Commission and authorizes it to investigate possible canal routes across Panama and Nicaragua. A.B. Nichols leads a team of surveyors to Nicaragua.
1902U.S. Army doctor William Gorgas eradicates Yellow Fever from Cuba.
1903November 2, 1903President Roosevelt appoints John Findlay Wallace to the position of Chief Engineer in charge of the Panama Canal project.
 November 18, 1903The U.S. war ship, Nashville, arrives in Panama to provide support for the Panamanian revolution and Panama claims independence from Columbia two days later.
1904May 2, 1904The U.S. government purchases what is left of the failed French canal construction company, including equipment and buildings, for $40,000,000.
 May 31, 1904A.B. Nichols arrives in Panama on the SS Alianca, leading a party of 19 to survey the area of Gatún.
 June 1904Chief Engineer John Findlay Wallace arrives in Panama to begin the project. Chief Medical Officer Colonel William C. Gorgas also arrives in Panama to focus on sanitary conditions and eradicating the threat of yellow fever.
1905June 28, 1905John Wallace resigns after only one year, overwhelmed by the harsh conditions, diseases, and logistical problems.
 July 26, 1905John F. Stevens arrives at the Canal, replacing Wallace as Chief Engineer. Stevens all but stops excavation and rebuilds the railroad, builds infrastructure and housing, and improves living conditions.
 November 11, 1905Colonel Gorgas’ efforts are successful and the last case of yellow fever is reported in Panama.
1907February 26, 1907After John Stevens’ resignation, President Roosevelt appoints George Washington Goethals, US Major General and engineer, the new Chief Engineer. He remains in the position until the Canal is completed and becomes the first governor of the Canal Zone.
 April 1907Construction begins on the Gatún Dam to control the Chagres River at the Atlantic entrance of the Canal. When completed, the dam creates the 164 square-mile Gatún Lake that provides a water source for lockages.
 October 1907The Americans experience their first slide at Cucaracha when 500,000 cubic yards of dirt move into Culebra Cut.
1908July 1908Lieutenant colonel David DuBose Gaillard is appointed engineer in charge of the Central Division, a 31.5 mile section of the Canal that includes the Culebra Cut, later named Gaillard Cut in his honor.
 December 12, 1908Forty-four thousand pounds of dynamite accidentally detonates in the Culebra Cut, killing 26 people and wounded 49 others.
1909Construction begins on the Gatún locks at the Atlantic entrance to the Canal and at Pedro Miguel and Miraflores on the Pacific side.
 March 4, 1909William Howard Taft, who had served as Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, takes the oath of office to become the twenty-seventh President of the United States.
1912Landslides plague progress in Culebra Cut, dumping nearly 3 million cubic yards of material into the channel.
 May 25, 1912The new Panama Canal Railroad opens for business after five years of work relocating the rail line.
1913May 20, 1913Engineers complete excavation work in the Culebra Cut, but landslides force workers to continue removing dirt for several more months.
 June 27, 1913Workers close the spillway gates of the Gatún Dam, enabling Gatún Lake to fill to its operational height of 85 feet above sea level.
 September 1913Work on the locks completed.
1914January 7, 1914A French crane boat Alexandre La Valley makes the first transit through the Panama Canal seven months before the official opening.
 August 4, 1914World War I begins in Europe, overshadowing news of the Canal’s impending opening.
 August 15, 1914The Panama Canal officially opens. The SS Ancon makes a ceremonial transit from the Atlantic end to the Pacific in nine hours.
1935Engineers complete work on the Madden Dam to control the Canal’s watershed. Located east of the Canal Zone, the resulting reservoir regulates the flow of the Chagres River into Gatún Lake.
1939U.S. Congress approves funding for a $277 million plan to build a third set of locks. Excavation work begins in 1940 at both the Atlantic and Pacific entrances to the Canal. Secretary of War Henry Stimson terminates the project in May 1942 as funding shifts to other war-related priorities.
1964January 9, 1964Panamanian demonstrators, frustrated with U.S. presence in the Canal Zone, clash with American troops, sparking three days of violence along the Canal Zone. President Lyndon Johnson agrees to renegotiate a new canal treaty, although the effort ultimately fails.
1977September 7, 1977President Jimmy Carter and General Omar Torrijos sign two treaties that will require the U.S. to relinquish ownership of the Canal to Panama at noon on December 31, 1999, but give the U.S. the right to use military force to defend the neutrality of the Canal.
1978In March and April, the U.S. Senate ratifies the Carter-Torrijos treaties with votes of 68-32 for each treaty.
1979U.S. transfers the Panama Railroad to Panama as part of the Carter-Trujillo agreement ending American ownership of the Panama Canal.
1998February 17, 1998The government of Panama grants Kansas City Southern Railway and Mi-Jack Products a 50-year concession to rebuild and operate the Panama Railroad.
1999December 31, 1999At a ceremony attended by President Carter, the U.S. hands over control of the Panama Canal.
2000November 2000The revitalized Panama Railroad begins passenger and container services, complementing the existing hub transportation infrastructure provided by the Canal, the Colón Free Trade Zone, the Port terminals, highways, and airports.
2007The Panama Canal Authority begins construction of a $5 billion expansion project to add a third set of locks and to deepen the Canal’s channel.