Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, & Technology
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Leonardo's Miter Gate
Languedoc Canal
Caledonian Canal
Panama Canal Zone

The Panama Canal

Panama Canal Zone
French Project
Gatun Dam and Locks
Culebra Cut
Opening Panama Canal

Centuries of Civil Engineering

Nichols, A.B., Office Engineer, Culebra, Canal Zone, Panama
Panama Canal Notebooks.
Albums of photographs, circa 1882-1920. 3 volumes
Water Supply
Image Index


Nichols collected several documents related to work on the Panama Canal before the Americans took over the project from the French. One of these is an album of photographs of the equipment, work sites, buildings, and people involved in the French effort.  The man in charge of the French project, Ferdinand de Lesseps, is shown in this detail from a group portrait.

Ferdinand de Lesseps had successfully completed the Suez Canal in 1869 and was considered the perfect choice to lead the enormous technical enterprise of building a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Lesseps insisted on the construction of a sea-level canal, instead of one that utilized a series of locks. But the mountains of Panama proved more formidable than the desert of Egypt, and the French canal project ended in a financial disaster that could not overcome the technical challenges. A new French canal company, formed after the Compagnie Universelle de Canal Interoceanique declared bankruptcy in 1889, eventually sold all of its Panamanian assets to the United States in 1904.


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