President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian Chief of Government Omar Torrijos signed the Panama Canal Treaty and Neutrality Treaty on September 7, 1977. Also known as the Carter-Torrijos Treaty, this agreement relinquished American control over the canal and transferred authority to the Panama Canal Authority on December 31, 1999.
On May 4, 1904, Panama granted the United States the right to build and operate the canal and control the five miles of land on either side of the water passage in exchange for annual payments. President Theodore Roosevelt viewed building the canal as indispensable for securing U.S. military and commercial power.
Construction on the canal began in 1904 and the canal opened to traffic on August 15, 1914. Ships passing through the lakes and locks travel approximately 51 miles between the Atlantic Ocean entrance and the Pacific Ocean entrance, eliminating the lengthy and often precarious 8,000-nautical-mile trip around South America’s Cape Horn.
Look what they did with the Pay-no-more Canal…When they started to build, they said it would bring New York a thousand miles closer to San Francisco. Why it’s ridiculous. We spent four hundred million dollars, the canal is nearly finished, and New York is still in the same place.
The Speaker of the House: a monologue, Part 3/ by Aaron Hoffman. 1914. The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
America celebrated the opening of the canal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The event marked both the triumph of the waterway’s engineering and the emergence of a modern San Francisco newly rebuilt after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire.
- View The Story of the Panama Canal, a seven-part film documenting the work of building the canal and showing the waterway in operation. Search the collection Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film on Panama.
- Examine additional photographic images of the canal and its construction by searching on Panama in:
- Search on Panama in Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey for photographs and data pages of various buildings in the canal zone—ranging from the Marine Barracks to a hospital.