A Meeting in Hell

Culebra Cut, Culebra. Completion of bottom pioneer cut. Steam Shovels #230 and #222 meeting at grade. Looking south from West bank. May 20, 1913.

The engineers and laborers tasked with constructing the Panama Canal in 1904 literally had to move a mountain in order to create the waterway across the Isthmus of Panama connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Canal was designed with a system of locks to raise ships 85 feet above sea level so that they could transit artificial lakes before being lowered again on the other end.

In this months’ blog post, a series of photos from the Panama Canal Museum Collection sheds a stark light on the reality of the making of the Culebra Cut, which completed the groundwork needed to bring the construction of the Panama Canal to a close. This monumental task came with a heavy price, paid for in blood by laborers of primarily Caribbean decent who risked disease, injuries, amputations, and death to see this feat of modern engineering through to completion.