The Panama Canal is around 80km (50 miles) long and links the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, running across the centre of Panama. Locks at the Pacific and Atlantic ends of the Canal either lower vessels to sea level or raise them up to the Canal. The Canal itself is made up of the Gaillard Cut channel and the artificial Gatun Lake. The lake was formed by the damming of the Chagres River.
The first attempt to build the Canal was made by a French company, but the attempt ended in failure in 1889. The American government eventually bought out the French for 40 million dollars, and their attempt to build the Canal started in 1904. The project ended in triumph, with the Canal opening in 1914, and it is now a vital artery of international trade, with nearly 14,000 ships travelling through it every year.
The total financial cost to the American government was around $375 million, but there was also a very great human cost. The death toll as the work progressed is thought to have been as high as 25,000.