William Henry Aspinwall (1807-1875): New York businessman who operated the Pacific Mail Steamship Line, delivering mail between Panama and the U.S. west coast. In 1850, he helped financed construction of the Panama Railroad.
Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475-1519): Spanish explorer who in 1513 became the first European to see the Pacific Ocean during an expedition in present-day Panama.
James Earl “Jimmy” Carter (1924 – ): Thirty-ninth president of the United States in office from 1977 to 1981. In 1977, President Carter negotiated new Canal treaties with Panamanian leader General Omar Torrijos. Ratified in 1978, the Torrijos-Carter treaties required the U.S. to relinquish ownership of the Canal to Panama at noon on December 31, 1999.
Henry Chauncey (1795-1863): New York banker who became partners in the Panama Railroad Company during the 1850s with William Aspinwall and John Stephens.
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506): Italian-born explorer who made four voyages to the Americas between 1492 and 1504, sailing under the Spanish flag. During his fourth voyage, he sailed along the isthmus of present-day Panama.
Philippe Bunau-Varilla (1859-1940): French engineer who worked in Panama during the French construction effort during the 1880s. In 1903, as a representative of the newly formed Panamanian government, he signed the Hay-Buanau-Varilla treaty that gave the U.S. the right to build a canal in Panama.
Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-1894): French diplomat and administrator who oversaw the construction of the Suez Canal between 1859 and 1869. In the 1880s, de Lesseps led construction of a canal across Panama, a venture that ultimately failed due to tropical diseases and financial troubles.
Adolphe Godin de Lépinay (1821-1898): French engineer who proposed in 1879 building a lock canal across Panama. His idea of damning the Chagres River and building locks at the Atlantic and Pacific entrances was similar to what was eventually constructed by the U.S in the twentieth century.
James Buchanan Eads (1820-1887): Civil engineer who designed a bridge in St. Louis, Missouri, that was the first bridge across the Mississippi River. In 1880, he proposed a railway system that would carry ships across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico as an alternative to building a canal through Panama.
Carlos Juan Finlay (1833-1915): Cuban medical doctor credited with making the discovery that mosquitoes carried the yellow fever virus. In 1881, Finlay published his mosquito theory in Anales de la Real Academia. In 1901, his findings were proved in Cuba by Dr. Walter Reed and colleagues of the Yellow Fever Commission.
David du Bose Gaillard (1859-1913): U.S. engineer and Lieutenant Colonel who led the construction of the engineering work in Culbra Cut from 1906 until his death eight months before the Canal officially opened. Culebra was renamed the Gaillard Cut during U.S. ownership of the Canal from 1914 to 1999.
George Washington Goethals (1858-1928): U.S. engineer who served as Chief Engineer of the Isthmian Canal Commission from 1907 until the Panama Canal opened in August 1914. He served as the first Governor of the Panama Canal from 1914 until 1917.
William Crawford Gorgas (1854-1920): U.S. Army doctor who worked with yellow fever patients in Texas and Cuba during the late 19th century. He eradicated yellow fever in Cuba prior to his appointment as Chief Sanitary Engineer in Panama.
John Milton Hay (1838-1905): U.S. Secretary of State from 1898 to 1905 under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903, Hay negotiated a treaty with Philippe Bunau-Varilla, an envoy of the Republic of Panama, which secured the right for the U.S. to build a canal in Panama.
Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973): Thirty-sixth president of the United States in office from 1963 to 1969. In 1964, following riots by Panamanians over U.S. presence in the Canal Zone, Johnson renegotiated the U.S.-Panama canal treaty and created a commission to study the feasibility of building a sea-level canal.
Ferdinand Magellan (c.1480-1521): Portuguese-born explorer who led the first expedition to circumnavigate the earth from 1519 to 1522. Though Magellan was killed in the Philippines in 1521, one of his ships returned to Europe to complete the circumnavigation.
Aurin Bugbee Nichols (1845-1929): Office Engineer during the building of the Panama Canal. He arrived in Panama in 1904 at the beginning of construction and worked in the Canal Zone until the Canal’s completion in 1914.
Armand Réclus (1843-1927): French navy lieutenant and engineer who performed survey work in Panama and later oversaw canal construction from 1881 until his resignation a year later.
Walter Reed (1851-1902): U.S. Army doctor who performed experiments in Cuba that helped prove the theory that mosquitoes transmit yellow fever.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945): Thirty-second president of the United States in office from 1933 to 1945. In 1936, FDR negotiated the Hull-Alfaro Treaty, which gave economic concessions to Panama and committed the U.S. to build a trans-isthmian highway.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919): Twenty-sixth president of the United States in office from 1901-1909. A strong proponent of building a canal across Central America, Roosevelt maneuvered U.S. foreign policy and used military might to acquire the rights of Panama from Columbia in 1903. Roosevelt visited Panama in 1906 to view construction of the Canal, becoming the first U.S. president to leave the country while in office.
Jackson Smith (1862-1910): American official who worked in the Canal Zone from 1905 to 1908, serving as Head of the Department of Labor, Quarters, and Subsistence and as a member of the Isthmian Canal Commission.
Society of the Incas: Social club during U.S. construction of the Canal, named after the indigenous Pre-Columbian empire of western South America. Membership in the Incas club was limited to American professional workers who had arrived in Panama at the beginning of construction in 1904.
John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852): American explorer, archaeologist, and businessman who became vice-president of the Panama Railroad in 1849.
John Frank Stevens (1853-1943): U.S. civil engineer who was appointed Chief Engineer of the Panama Canal from 1905 to 1907. During his brief tenure as Chief Engineer, Stevens was instrumental in combating yellow fever and malaria and in convincing politicians and Canal officials that a locks canal was a more prudent choice than a sea-level canal.
William Howard Taft (1857-1930): Twenty-seventh president of the United States in office from 1909 to 1913. Taft served as Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, visiting Panama five times to check on construction progress. He traveled to Panama in January 1909 as president-elect to inspect construction.
Omar Torrijos (1929-1981): Brigadier General who became leader of Panama in 1968. General Torrijos signed a treaty with the U.S. in 1977 that transferred control of the Canal to Panama on December 31, 1999. The treaty also transferred the Panama Railroad to Panama in 1979.
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859): German naturalist and explorer who traveled in Central and South America from 1799 to 1804. He became widely known in his time through public lectures and his publications, Voyage de Humboldt et Bonpland and Kosmos.
John Findlay Wallace (1852-1921): U.S. civil engineer appointed as the first Chief Engineer of the Panama Canal construction project. He arrived in Panama in June 1904 and resigned a year later.
Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924): Twenty-eighth president of the United States in office from 1913 to 1921. The Panama Canal officially opened seventeen months after Wilson became president. In 1914, Wilson urged Congress to repeal a clause in the Panama Canal Act of 1912 that exempted U.S. merchant ships from paying tolls to transit the Canal.
Lucien Napoléon Bonaparte Wyse (1845-1909): French Navy Lieutenant and engineer who expored potential canal routes in Central America as a protégé of Ferdinand de Lesseps. Wyse negotiated a treaty with Columbia in 1877 that gave de Lesseps’ company a 99-year lease to build a canal.