The construction of the canal was originally led by the French in 1878 under the supervision of Ferdinand De Lesseps, the French engineer who built the Suez Canal. The canal was dug across the Isthmus of Panama, which was then part of Colombia.
Dangerous work conditions and technical difficulties made them abandon the project. Malaria and yellow fever killed a large number of workers, and landslides impeded their digging progress.
President Roosevelt agreed to pay $40 million to the French for the rights to the project, and he negotiated with Colombia to pay $10 million for a fifty-mile strip across the isthmus.
America took over construction and completed the canal in 1914. Procedures such as draining swamps were made before construction to avoid contact with disease-carrying mosquitoes.
The Chief Engineer of the project, John Frank Stevens, was the one who improved the workers' conditions so the project could continue without all the workers dying or abandoning the project.
Stevens convinced Theodore Roosevelt to build a lock canal as opposed to a sea level canal. The canal is a series of locked steps at different altitudes, and as each step in the canal gradually fills with water due to gravity, the ships are able to progress through the steps.
The total of American and French costs was about $164 million, and as many as 30,000 lives were lost during its construction.
Under American direction the canal was finished ahead of schedule, and it cost less than what was estimated. In contrast to the French project there was less technical difficulties, no recorded corruption or bribery, better working conditions, and higher morale, due to the proper planning that went into it.
Although the canal was important for America in the early twentieth century, by the end of the century America did not have much use for the canal, which is too narrow for American oil tankers and aircraft carriers.
In order to support the growing population, massive amounts of water needed to reach the cities.
A technologically innovative system of dams and aqueducts was created to bring the water to the people.
William Mulhulland began his life as an American immigrant digging ditches and other manual labor. He was hired by the newly founded Los Angeles Water Company, and went on to become became superintendent of the L.A. water system and later the head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Mulholland was a self taught engineer. He spent his career pushing a major water project, The Los Angeles aqueduct. The aqueduct would carry water from the Owens valley to L.A.
The project took more than six years to complete the aqueduct. It consisted of 235 miles of canals, conduits, tunnels, flumes, and siphons. In 1913 it was completed and it was a major factor for L.A.'s growth.
If not for Mulholland the Los Angeles area would not have had a proper foundation necessary for it to be the productive and large city it is today.
Mulholland bought out 95% of the Owens River between 1911 and 1923.
He was then able to start the construction of a 233 mile aqueduct rerouting water across the Mojave Desert towards downtown L.A.
The Owens Valley farmers were outraged because the pipelines were drying up Owens Valley. The farmers acted as vigilates by demolishing the pipelines and trying to take control of the aqueduct gates. (The California Water Wars)
Los Angeles was found to have the legal rights to the water.
The Colorado River transformed California’s Central Valley from a dry and uninhabitable landscape into one of the most productive and prosperous agricultural regions in the world.
The collapse of the St. Francis Dam in 1928 ended Mulholland's career.
The town of Santa Paula was destroyed by the flood and was buried under 20 feet of mud. The flood waves, reaching 100 feet high, swept right through the town at 18mph and out to the Pacific Ocean.
Mulholland took full responsibility for the tragedy which claimed 450 lives, but he was officially dismissed as the person at fault. The site was built on unstable rock formations that he could not have foreseen.