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Lock-type canal, Panama. Extending across the Isthmus of Panama, it connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is about 50 mi (82 km) long from deepwater to deepwater, with an average depth of 43 ft (13 m). The width varies between 500 to 1,000 ft (150 to 300 m). In 1881 a French company began constructing the canal, but the enterprise collapsed in 1889. Under a 1903 treaty Panama granted the U.S. the Panama Canal Zone and the rights to build and operate a canal. Work began in 1904; facing enormous obstacles, George Washington Goethals directed the construction from 1907, and the canal opened on Aug. 15, 1914. The canal enabled ships traveling between the two oceans to avoid the lengthy circumnavigation of South America and was a boon to world commerce. After disputes over sovereignty, a 1977 treaty provided for Panama to take control of the canal by 2000; it did so in 1999. Except for small craft, no vessel can pass through the canal under its own power. Ships are towed by electric locomotives, and it generally takes 15–20 hours to complete the passage (including waiting time). Sets of double locks enable ships to pass in opposite directions simultaneously.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Panama Canal, visit Britannica.com.
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