Saturday February 25 at 7.30pm on The History Channel
On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal opened, connecting the world’s two largest oceans and signaling America’s emergence as a global superpower. American ingenuity and innovation had succeeded where, just a few years earlier, the French had failed disastrously. But the U.S. paid a price for victory. It literally required moving mountains, breaking the back of the great range that connects North and South America. The French began the Canal in 1880, but were ultimately defeated by the enormity of the task and the virulence of the endemic tropical diseases; they left behind not only a partially completed canal, but also an immense financial debacle. The successful completion by the Americans in 1914 – only months before the start of a World War – marked the end of the Victorian age and the beginning of “the American Century.” It weaves together the stories of the powerful men, whose decisions shaped the enterprise, including larger-than-life characters such as Ferdinand de Lesseps and Theodore Roosevelt, with the stories of the ordinary labourers from Jamaica and Barbados whose labour and sacrifice actually dug the canal. Along the way it tells a story of innovation that literally changed the course of history.