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My, My, Such Possibilities, drawing by Clifford Berryman, ca. 1913

Cartoonist Clifford Berryman captured the nation’s enthusiasm for the Panama Canal as the project neared completion. The new waterway vastly reduced nautical distance from both the East and West Coasts to other destinations. It promised not only to improve national defense but also to boost tourism and to spur international commerce.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

My, My, Such Possibilities, drawing by Clifford Berryman, ca. 1913

Creating the Panama Canal

Congress was central to creating the Panama Canal, one of the Progressive Era’s furthest-reaching strategic, trade, and technological achievements. In the 1890s Congress investigated potential routes for a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, deeming it essential for commerce and defense. After Congress authorized the purchase of a canal project initiated by France on the Isthmus of Panama, the Senate approved a treaty to acquire the Canal Zone in 1904. Appropriating $375 million for construction, Congress established a commission to oversee the project, which was completed in 1914.