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Completion of the Panama Canal, 1914  [news report]
The "view" from Punta Arenas, Strait of Magellan

Once the Panama Canal opened for business (after the First World War, 1914-1918), most trans-oceanic shipping abandoned the Cape Horn route. This was to have serious consequences for the port of Punta Arenas, which the author of this contemporary newspaper editorial did not foresee.

End of a Great Work

It is not difficult to understand the pride felt by America in the fact that water-borne traffic is now passing through the Panama Canal. The completion of this great work is an achievement which in international importance challenges comparison with any single undertaking to be found in the history of nations.

The opening of the canal gives America a new importance and an added prestige. The work has been in progress intermittently since the early eighties. It exhausted the resources of two French companies before the United States took it over. The Canal is a locked waterway 85ft above sea level, and some of the locks — of which there are twelve — are the largest and most interesting in the world. For four-fifths of its length the canal runs through hilly country. In one stretch alone of nine miles, the celebrated Culebra Cut, 106,000,000 cubic yards of excavation have been removed. Yet although these facts and many others may be adduced to show the engineering importance of the work, the Americans are entitled to claim chief credit on still higher grounds and from the standpoint of larger considerations. The canal zone was one of the most unhealthy spots in the world. It is to the lasting credit of the Americans that they have turned a pest-hole into one of the healthiest places on the continent. The mosquito has been banished, yellow fever is now unheard of, and the death-rate of the Isthmus is lower than that of the average American city. Not only has the health of the men making the canal been cared for, but a revolution has been effected in the sanitary arrangements of the cities and towns of the Isthmus. This is an accomplishment more creditable to the American Government than any mere engineering feat could be. A civilised state could show its greatness in no better manner than by taking this wide and humane view of its responsibilities.

The total cost of the canal, including the payment made to the French syndicate, has been over £80,000,000, and though there will probably be a deficit on the revenue as compared with the annual charges, the indirect benefits to the United States will justify the expenditure. It is important to remember that the canal has great strategic value to America in that it will allow one fleet to police two oceans. The American Navy can hardly be said to have been a very definite factor in the Pacific because its greatest strength was generally kept in Atlantic waters, and the Atlantic coast of America was a long way from the Pacific when the journey had to be made by Cape Horn. The Canal will allow the American fleet to be always within reach of a danger point whether that danger point be in the Atlantic or the Pacific. Great Britain spends over £50,000,000 annually on her navy, and a capital expenditure of £80,000,000 which will for all time enable America to use her full naval strength for the protection of either coast appears by comparison to be an excellent investment. The chief commercial value of the Canal to America will be for coastwise trade. The American mercantile marine is very much larger than is generally recognised by those conversant only with the small proportion of it engaged in foreign carrying.

What the ultimate effects on the world's commerce of the opening of the Panama Canal may be it is impossible to predict, but they are certain to be far-reaching.

Source:  "The Magellan Times", 8-VII-1914