By Patrick Maloney

On October 1, 1979, the first step in transferring ownership of the Panama Canal from the United States to Panama took place.

On that date, the Panama Canal Zone, a 10-mile wide area surrounding the canal from the Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean, then under U.S. control, ceased to exist.

The quiz below, from the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio, provides an opportunity for you to test your knowledge of the Panama Canal.

1. Which country first attempted, but ultimately failed, to build a canal across Panama in the 1880s?

Under the charismatic leadership of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French attempted to construct a sea-level canal in Panama. DeLesseps, who had been successful in building the Suez canal against all odds, assured everyone that building a canal in Panama would be easier to make than the Suez Canal. However, after $287 million in expenditures and more than 20,000 deaths, the French attempt failed. (KU Medical Center)

2. In what year did the United States begin constructing the Panama Canal and how many years did it take?

Following the failure of a French construction team in the 1880s, the United States commenced building a canal across a 50-mile stretch of the Panama isthmus in 1904. The Panama Canal was opened in 1914. (History)

3. In what year was ownership of the Panama Canal fully transferred from the United States to Panama?

Opened in 1914, oversight of the world-famous Panama Canal was transferred from the U.S. to Panama in 1999. (History)

4. There is controversy over which ship first traversed the Panama Canal. Which of the following ships isn’t included in the controversy?

SS Ancon was an American cargo and passenger ship that became the first ship to officially transit the Panama Canal in 1914. (Wikipedia) The first complete Panama Canal passage by a self-propelled, oceangoing vessel took place on January 7, 1914. The Alexandre La Valley, an old French crane boat that had previously been brought from the Atlantic side now came through the Pacific locks. (Pan Canal) The first boat to cross the Panama Canal once it was opened was the S.S. Ancon, carrying a cargo of cement on August 15, 1914. (Info Please)

5. At the time negotiations began on building the canal, the Isthmus of Panama was not owned by Panama, but by which country?

In 1902, Congress authorized the purchase of the French assets. However, the following year, when Colombia, which Panama was then a part of, refused to ratify an agreement allowing the United States to build a canal, the Panamanians, with encouragement from Bunau-Varilla and tacit approval from President Theodore Roosevelt, revolted against Colombia and declared Panama’s independence. (History)

6. Which U.S. president was responsible for turning the Panama Canal over to Panama?

In 1977, responding to nearly 20 years of Panamanian protest, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Panama's General Omar Torrijos signed two new treaties that replaced the original 1903 agreement and called for a transfer of canal control in 1999. (History)

7. Which U.S. president said: “My impression about the Panama Canal is that the great revolution it is going to introduce in the trade of the world is in the trade between the east and the west coast of the United States.”

Lots of interesting history and background. In February 1907, when Chief Engineer John Stevens resigned, Taft recommended an army engineer, George W. Goethals, to take control. Under Goethals, the project moved ahead smoothly to completion. One of William Howard Taft's quote about the canal was: "My impression about the Panama Canal is that the great revolution it is going to introduce in the trade of the world is in the trade between the east and the west coast of the United States." (Cruise Critic)

8. A major expansion of the Panama Canal was completed in 2016, enabling larger container ships to traverse the canal. How much more cargo is one ship able to bring through the canal than before the expansion?

The water used per lock operating cycle is therefore equal to the amount of water that flows into the first (upper) lock chamber when filling it from Gatun Lake. Reducing this volume requires reducing the chamber's width, length, or elevating height. Note that the elevating height has already been reduced by staging the total 85 ft (26 m) elevation change into three locks. Were this change done in a single lock chamber, the water volume lost would be three times as much. (Wikipedia)

9. Approximately how many workers died of injury and disease during the construction of the Panama Canal?

The construction of the Panama Canal likely saw a death count of about 25,000 people, most killed not by construction incidents but by yellow fever and malaria. (Gizmodo)

10. Which of the following canals is the longest in the world?

The Grand Canal in China is the longest canal in the world. The canal connects the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers over a distance of approximately 1,104 miles. (World Atlas)

Answers:  1-B, 2-C, 3-D, 4-C, 5-A, 6-D, 7-B, 8-B, 9-C, 10-A

About the Author 

Patrick Maloney is deputy director of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio. He wrote this for

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