Panama Canal timeline
Vasco Nunez de Balboa crosses the Isthmus of Panama from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.
Charles I of Spain (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) orders a survey of a proposed canal route across the isthmus. The survey comes back "impossible."
Discovery of gold in California sparks interest in the United States in a shipping route across the isthmus.
U.S. Army Capt. Ulysses S. Grant leads a military detachment of several hundred men and their dependents across isthmus en route to California; 150 men, women and children die from a cholera epidemic.
Now president, Grant orders surveys for a canal that are conducted in Tehuantepec, Mexico, and in the Darien region of Panama, a province of Colombia.Now president, Grant orders surveys for a canal that are conducted in Tehuantepec, Mexico, and in the Darien region of Panama, a province of Colombia.
French committee begins study for an isthmus canal. U.S. canal commission favors Nicaragua route.
French naval officer Lucien Wyse explores two possible canal routes for company headed by Ferdinand de Lesseps, choosing the one that is now the current route. Wyse signs agreement with Colombia for French company to build canal. Treaty calls for canal to revert to Colombia after 99 years.
French hold a congress in Paris on the building of the canal, consider 14 proposals, including Wyse's. Final decision comes down to three routes: De Lesseps/Wyse's sea-level canal and another French proposal for a lock canal across Colombia's Panama province, and the U.S. Nicaragua plan. De Lesseps' plan wins.
French break ground on canal in Panama on January 1.
First construction crews arrive; first employee dies of yellow fever.
Work force of 19,000 reached; workers die of yellow fever and malaria almost daily.
Committee recommends lock canal as costs rise.
French abandon sea level canal and begin work on a lock canal.
Canal company dissolved and work on the canal stops.
Wyse renegotiates agreement with Colombia and begins working for new canal company.
First ships sail from France to begin excavation of the Culebra Cut.
New plan presented for lock canal with two lakes and eight sets of locks. But half of company's capital is already gone, and the company offers itself for sale to the United States.
President William McKinley orders new U.S. canal commission to study canal possibilities in light of French failure. Nicaragua route again favored.
Congress backs Nicaragua route, but Theodore Roosevelt, now president after McKinley's assassination, pushes Panama. Roosevelt tries to buy rights to dig canal from Colombia, but Colombia refuses.
Roosevelt backs Panamanian uprising against Colombia by stationing warships offshore. Panama declares independence on November 3, and the United States signs a treaty with Panama allowing it to build the canal. The treaty also creates a Canal Zone, a sovereign part of the United States 10 miles wide that splits Panama in half.
United States buys French company's rights and properties, begins construction on May 4.
Last case of yellow fever in Panama City on November 11; Col. William Gorgas has successfully eradicated the disease from the isthmus.
U.S. Senate approves project as a lock canal. Roosevelt, in the first trip by a U.S. president outside the country while in office, visits the site on November 6.
First earth slide on American work site dumps 382,277 cubic meters (500,000 cubic yards) of material into work area. Slide moves 4.2 meters (14 feet) every 24 hours for 10 days. It is still a slide surveillance area.
First concrete poured for locks at Gatun on August 24. Locks take four years to complete.
Steam shovels digging from opposite sides of the isthmus meet in the middle. Maximum job force reached on March 26: 44,733. Last rock lifted from the canal on September 10. Earthquake shakes a scare into the builders on September 30, but no damage was reported. October 10: President Woodrow Wilson pushes the button that relays, via telegraph, the signal to blow up the center of the dike that was keeping Atlantic waters from Pacific waters.
In January, first complete passage of the completed canal by an ocean-going, self-propelled vessel, the old French crane boat Alexandre La Valley. Official opening day is August 15. The U.S.S. Ancon, piloted by Capt. John A. Constantine, makes first official passage in 9 hours, 40 minutes.
Arnulfo Arias Madrid overthrows the government in a bloody coup after which his brother Harmodio is elected president, an episode that prefaces an era of political and economic turmoil that endures until the 1970s.
With World War II under way in Europe and the Far East, the United States asks Panama for air landing fields, roads, warning stations and antiaircraft batteries outside the Canal Zone. Arnulfo Arias, the newly elected president who sympathizes with fascism, demands cash and other property. While in Havana in October 1941, he is overthrown by his own military and replaced by Ricardo de la Guardia. The United States gets the sites following the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, and gives them back after the war.
President Jose Remon, elected in 1952, is assassinated.
A state of siege is imposed by the United States in the Canal Zone following student riots against the regime of President Ernesto de la Guardia, elected in 1956. Nine people are killed. Outside the zone, life is not good for most Panamanians, and nationalism proliferates.
Panama cuts diplomatic relations with the United States and demands reparations following riots provoked by a scuffle on January 9 involving American and Panamanian school boys over flying each nation's flag over Balboa High School. Several thousand people participate, 23 Panamanians and four U.S. Marines are killed, and many more are injured. An international commission ultimately upholds the United States.
Arias wins the presidency but after 11 days in office he is overthrown by a junta of National Guard officers led by Col. (later Gen.) Omar Torrijos Herrera.
Torrijos handpicks a National Assembly that gives him dictatorial powers. He embarks Panama on an impressive public works program that drives the country toward economic disaster.
U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Torrijos sign treaty in Washington on September 7 that promises the United States will hand control of the waterway to Panama on December 31, 1999. Both parties pledge that the canal will remain open, safe, neutral and accessible to all vessels.
The Panama Canal Company, the Canal Zone and its government go out of business and are replaced by the Panama Canal Commission that will operate the canal for the 20-year transition period.
Torrijos dies in a plane crash and his dictatorial powers ultimately are assumed by one of his two army successors, Col. Manuel Noriega Moreno, once chief of the secret police and an operative of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Noriega shuts down the free press and militarizes government services in a campaign of general repression.
Noriega is accused by the National Guard's deputy commander of trafficking in narcotics for the Colombian drug cartels, murdering political opponents, and rigging elections.
Noriega is indicted by a U.S. federal court in Miami on drug trafficking and racketeering charges.
When Guillermo Endara, a Noriega opponent, is elected president by a wide margin, Noriega nullifies the election and installs a crony as president on September 1. On October 3, Noriega survives a bloody coup. On December 15 he coerces more dictatorial powers from the legislature, which declares war against the United States. Panamanian soldiers a day later kill an unarmed American Marine officer dressed in civilian clothes.
Worried the canal may be in jeopardy, President George Bush on December 19 orders troops to invade Panama in the name of capturing Noriega and bringing him to trial, protecting U.S. citizens, and restoring order. The invasion ends two weeks later when Noriega is seized and transported to Miami where he is later tried and convicted.
United States to hand over control of the canal to Panama on December 31.