The Panama Canal is a man-made waterway, completed in 1914, linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans through the Isthmus of Panama. An eight-hour trip through the fifty-mile Panama Canal saves a ship 5,200 miles on a voyage from Los Angeles to New York. Without it, to get from one U.S. coast to the other, a ship would need to travel around Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America.
As determined by two treaties signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, control of the Panama Canal was handed over to Panama on December 31, 1999, after nearly one hundred years of U.S. rule. This CNN Special outlines the history of its construction and politics with news articles, personal narratives and photos. Unique clicks include a live Panama Canal web cam, and seven-question Panama Canal quiz. For a history of the canal starting in 1513 with Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa, read "History: Troubled Passageway."
"The opening of the waterway to world commerce on August 15, 1914, represented the realization of a heroic dream of over 400 years. The fifty miles across the isthmus were among the hardest ever won by human ingenuity." While not on the same scale as actually building the Panama Canal, this Java animation demonstrating a ship traveling through the canal is pretty clever, and certainly worth more than a thousand words. If you only see an empty box, you will need to enable Java in your browser ( http://www.surfnetkids.com/java.htm ).
From the official Panama Canal site, these how-the-canal-works animations (complemented by the sounds of rushing water and ship horns) offer a more detailed look at the physics of the canal than the previous animation site. "The three sets of locks of the two-lane Canal work as water elevators that lift the ships to the level of Gatun Lake, twenty-six meters over sea level, and later lower them again to sea level on the other side of the Isthmus of Panama."
Dedicated to the men and women who "made the heroic dream of over 400 years come true," the Panama Canal History Museum records the canal's history in photos, documents and stories. Unfortunately the exhibits are not laid out in storyline fashion, but are simply listed chronologically. This makes the site an excellent resource for school reports, but rather tedious to browse.
Click through the introductory slide show (with your speakers on) to reveal the meat of this Smithsonian exhibit. It is my pick-of-the-day canal history site for high school students and adult learners. Reasons to visit include the extensive, illustrated canal history, a reading list of recommended books (including one for elementary school students), and interesting canal factoids (titled Did You Know?) To bypass the intro when returning to the site, use this URL.