Monday, August 13, 2007

August 13, 1914:

A Man, A Plan, A Canal

On August 13, 1914, the steamship Christobal, in the service of the US government, made a test run through the Panama Canal in both directions, marking the first passage of a large steamer through its locks. The test was a success. Two days later the canal was officially opened to traffic, with the Ancon making the first official transit of the project that Theodore Roosevelt initiated as president in the early 1900s.

According to the history of the canal at the Panama Canal Authority web site: "Plans were made for a grand celebration to appropriately mark the official opening of the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914. A fleet of international warships was to assemble off Hampton Roads on New Year’s Day 1915, then sail to San Francisco through the Panama Canal, arriving in time for the opening of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world’s-fair type celebration. But no such grand opening occurred. Although the Panama Pacific Exposition went on as planned, World War I forced cancellation of planned festivities at the Canal. The grand opening was a modest affair with the Canal cement boat Ancon, piloted by Captain John A. Constantine, the Canal’s first pilot, making the first official transit....

"Roosevelt is widely given credit for building the Panama Canal, and he likely never disputed the claim. However, of the three presidents whose terms coincided with Canal construction – Roosevelt, WIlliam Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson – it was Taft who provided the most active, hands-on participation over the longest period. Taft visited Panama five times as Roosevelt’s Secretary of War and made two more trips while President. He also hired John Stevens and, when Stevens resigned, recommended [Col. George Washington Goethals] as chief engineer. When Taft replaced Roosevelt in the White House in 1909, canal construction was only at the halfway mark. Goethals, however, was to write, 'The real builder of the Panama Canal was Theodore Roosevelt.'

"The following words of Theodore Roosevelt are engraved in a plaque on display in the Rotunda of the Administration Building, and more than anything else convey his personal philosophy and the spirit of his thinking about the achievement at Panama:

" 'It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.' "

In The Path Between the Seas, David McCullough wrote: "The creation of a water passage across Panama was one of the supreme human achievements of all time, the culmination of a heroic dream of over four hundred years and of more than twenty years of phenomenal effort and sacrifice. The fifty miles between the oceans were among the hardest ever won by human effort and ingenuity, and no statistics on tonnage or tolls can begin to convey the grandeur of what was accomplished. Primarily the canal is an expression of that old and noble desire to bridge the divide, to bring people together. It is a work of civilization."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama, read backwards is A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama. This you know. Do you also know that August 13, 1914 is the exact midpoint between the assassinations of President Lincoln and JFK?