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Profile of the Panama Canal, map by The Americana Company and Bormay & Co., 1904

Congress decided on a Panamanian route in 1902, when a French company offered its abandoned canal project there for a low price. A cutaway plan of the canal showed how locks would resolve problems of the terrain by lifting ships through the higher elevations and adjust for the 10-foot difference between the Atlantic and Pacific sea levels.

Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

Profile of the Panama Canal

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.