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California Part 3 “Panama & Los Angeles:The Waterworks That Made the American West” BY: CHANTEL HENDERSON HISTORY 141 71154
The Panama Canal: The First Attempt by the French Ferdinand de Lesseps was a French entrepreneur who developed the Suez Canal and began the construction for the Panama Canal. He wanted to make a short cut for sea travel. This would save 8,000 miles from New York to San Francisco, instead of going around the horn of South America. Without previous knowledge of Panama and despite warnings from others of how much turmoil would come from it, de Lesseps went over to Panama with thousands of French laborers to build the canal. They encountered obstacles immediately but still persevered. The biggest obstacle were the diseases, mainly malaria and yellow fever, that wiped out the workers in vast numbers. Although of the dangers, people still kept coming over to replace the deceased workers. A total of over 20,000 men died from diseases and in the end the French had failed and had to cease the project due to lack of funds.
The Panama Canal: Theodore Roosevelt and the Panama Revolution of 1903 After Theodore Roosevelt became President, he wanted to rule both seas (the Pacific and Atlantic) with an American canal in between. He wanted to finish the Panama Canal from where the French had stopped. After the senate approved the project, Roosevelt was ecstatic, but Colombia did not like the terms and dragged out the negotiations indefinitely. This made things difficult since Panama was a part of Colombia. This brought on the Panama Revolution of 1903. The Panama Revolution of 1903 was bloodless and ended very shortly when a gun ship, the USS Nashville, pulled up on the shores of Panama before the Colombians could even send their troops. Panama had gained their independence from Colombia and the Americans were able to start construction.
The Panama Canal: Chief Engineer John Stevens and Dr. William Gorgas The Americans were unorganized when they first started building the canal, and yellow fever was threatening them. After John Stevens, the best railroad engineer at the time, became Chief Engineer, he told the men to stop excavating and make their environment hospitable first. Dr. William Gorgas, who was the medical physician there, knew that the tropical diseases came from mosquitoes and told them to put screens on their houses. With the help from John Stevens and Dr. William Gorgas, the Americans were able to clean up the area and make it a habitable environment for themselves, and by December 1905, Dr. Gorgas was able to announce that there was no more Yellow Fever on the isthmus. John Stevens proposed the idea to President Roosevelt of building a dam to create an enormous lake and a series of locks to raise the ships up and down across the canal. Roosevelt preferred the idea of a sea- level canal but approved the idea fortunately. Stevens built a series of railroads to haul the dirt out of the canal and used massive power shovels to dig out the dirt. This proved to be a very efficient way of moving the dirt.
The Panama Canal: Colonel George Washington Goethals After Chief Engineer John Stevens resigned from the position, Roosevelt wanted to appoint someone the position who could not walk away from it, so he appointed a military man, Colonel George Washington Goethals. With the prior experience he had with building locks and dams while in the military, he proved to be a good leader. Problems had occurred including pre-mature explosions from dynamite and massive amounts of rain that would cause substantial mudslides. Even when the biggest mudslide occurred, the Colonel said to dig it out again. The locks were made out of concrete, and the most amount of concrete any structure had been made out of, and were meant to become machines themselves. They were extremely massive with an overall length of 1000 feet and a width of 110 feet. The Panama Canal officially opened on August 14th, 1914.
The Los Angeles Aqueduct: Why It Was Necessary Los Angeles’s only source of water, the tiny Los Angeles River, was sucked dry by 1903. The superintendent of Los Angeles’s water system, William Mulholland, tried to fix the problem, but the city’s growth kept it from being solve. He knew that the city would need to stop growing or that they would need to find another source of water for it. A friend of Mulholland’s told him about the Owens Valley about 200 miles north of L.A. where there were lakes and rivers full of fresh water.
The Los Angeles Aqueduct: The Building of the Aqueduct Mulholland wanted to build an aqueduct that would bring that water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles and campaigned to the people of the city to fund his new project. The people voted 10 to 1 for his new project. In 1905, Mulholland set out to build his new aqueduct. With no formal civil engineering training, Mulholland had men and mules go out to the dry, arid desert of the Mojave to build a very long pipe that was imported in segments from Germany. On November 5, 1913, the Los Angeles Aqueduct was released and dedicated. It poured out 4 times the amount of water that Los Angeles would need.
The Los Angeles Aqueduct: Problems Arise Since the aqueduct was releasing 4 times as much water than what was necessary, the ranchers’ soil in the Owens Valley was becoming unfertile because the water was being sucked out of it. Mulholland had even more ground water sucked out of the Owens Valley and the Owens Lake even became dry because of it. This resulted in business and schools closing down because the crops were failing. The ranchers were mad and people revolted. In 1924, the local bank president and 100 citizens seized the aqueduct. They opened the flood gates and allowed the water flow in a ditch where it would go back into the valley floor where it originated. Over 700 people gathered at the aqueduct to keep control of it. The city made a deal with the bank and the ranchers to pay them to regain the rights of the water supply and said that they would share it with them too. Everybody was happy until they learned that the deal fell through. People kept blowing up the aqueduct, but no one was ever convicted for it.