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Panama Canal Society; Americans who Worked on the Panama Canal

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From beginning of construction of the Panama Canal tens of thousands of Americans worked and lived in Panama. In 1932 a number of Americans who had worked in the Panama Canal Zone and throughout Panama banded together to form the Panama Canal Society. This society of men and women who built, operated, and defended the Panama Canal is still active after more than seventy years. These Americans helped with hospitals, schools, and public services throughout the Canal Zone and throughout Panama.

About the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is the system of man made channels, locks, dams, and artificial lakes that connect the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean across the Isthmus of Panama. Since its completion in 1914 the Panama Canal has allowed shipping to cross the fifty mile wide isthmus at the narrowest part of the Americas. The Panama Canal locks allow ships to enter the system from either ocean and to be raised to the level of artificial Lake Gatun, 26 meters above sea level, to transit central Panama before being lowered to sea level on the other side.

Construction of the Panama Canal included damming the Chagras River (Gatun Dam) so that a central valley filled with runoff from Panama's tropical rains thus forming Lake Gatun. In addition a 7.8 mile long, manmade valley was blasted and dug through a ridge in the mountains of central Panama to connect Lake Gatun with the Pacific side of the canal system. This valley is known as the Gaillard Cut or Culebra Cut.

The Panama Canal allows ships to avoid the Drake Passage around Cape Horn at the tip of South America saving up to 8000 miles for shipping that originates north of the canal.

Current passage time is about 9 hours. In 2007, 312 million tons of commercial shipping passed through the Panama Canal in 13,223 ships or about 36 container ships a day.

The hydroelectric power to run the canal system comes from the Gatun Dam. The canal does not use all power generated and sells the unused portion.

About the Panama Canal Society

According to the Panama Canal Society web site, the Panama Canal Society currently has over 4,000 members, with members located in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and 10 foreign countries, including the Republic of Panama. The largest concentration of members is in Florida; however, there are large numbers in California, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and North Carolina.

The Panama Canal Society publishes an Annual Directory, and four issues annually of the Canal Record, the official publication of the Panama Canal Society. The Panama Canal Society also sponsors an annual reunion, generally in the summer in Orlando, Florida. Dues for the membership in the Society are $30 per year. New members also must pay a one-time $10 administrative fee."

Current Panama Canal Administration

In 1903 the United States signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty that guaranteed the independence of the new country of Panama and in return received the right to build and operate a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Many of the initial members of the Panama Canal Society were original workers or military charged with guarding the Panama Canal and sovereignty of the new nation of Panama. After its construction was completed by the United States in 1914 the Panama Canal was operated by the United States exclusively until 1977. Two new treaties were signed in 1977 and from 1977 to 1997 the US and Panamanian Panama Canal Commission jointly managed the Panama Canal. In 1997 Panama took over sole management of the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal is considered neutral and, in fact, the neutrality of the Panama Canal is guaranteed by the 1977 treaty that eventually returned sovereignty of the Panama Canal and adjacent lands to Panama. Current management is by the Panama Canal Authority (Autoridad del Canal de Panama, ACP), which is an autonomous agency of the government of Panama charged with managing, operating, and maintaining the Panama Canal.

In 2007 ACP began the Panama Canal Expansion Project which will take ten years and cost over five billion dollars. A second, larger set of channels and locks will be built to more than double the capacity of the Panama Canal system.

As the Panama Canal moves on there will be no new members of the Panama Canal Society. However, these men and women of the US Military and other government services should not be forgotten for their contributions to building and maintaining the Panama Canal for almost a century.

The following references about the Panama Canal and Panama Canal Society contributed information for this article.



PanCanal- This is the Canal

Panama Canal Lock

Panama Canal Treaty

Panama Canal Map


Panama Canal

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