building construction vintage engineering panama_canal motors locks ge

Building A Shortcut

by Txchnologist staff

The Panama Canal opened for business in 1914 after a decade of construction, cutting across the Isthmus of Panama to provide ships a shortcut between the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. Before it was built, vessels would need to round South America’s Cape Horn. 

But to create the maritime shortcut, the canal’s creators had to dig out a 48-mile-long waterway through the narrowest piece of land between North and South America. They also needed to construct a series of water lifts, called locks, that could raise ships from sea level up to more than 85 feet above sea level to let them pass over the landmass. Operating the locks and other parts of the system required 1,022 electric motors, which together generated almost 29,000 horsepower. 

GE cameras were on the scene to record the gargantuan engineering project. The company helped create the largest electrical installation in the world at the time and designed the intricate selsyn controls for each of the locks.

"The history of the construction of the Panama Canal is the saga of human ingenuity and courage: years of sacrifice, crushing defeat, and final victory," says the Panama Canal Authority, which administers the waterway. "Many gave their life in the effort." 

Today, the canal lets as many as 14,000 vessels pass every year, and is a crucial link in 144 maritime routes. It is undergoing a major expansion set for completion in 2015. In anticipation of servicing massive 120-foot-long cargo ships that the expansion will allow, this summer the canal authority commissioned 14 tugboats that will be powered with 28 8L250 GE Marine engines.

(Construction of locks on the Panama Canal, 1913. Courtesy Wikipedia.)

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    Panama Canal is a must see when visiting Panama City. Here’s some cool history and engineering background to help...
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