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The Panama Canal, which unites the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, is considered one of the most awe-inspiring engineering wonders of the world. It is the only canal that connects two oceans, an attribute that has contributed not only to shorter and more convenient travel, but also social progress. The 50 mile long waterway began operation in 1914 as the result of several decades of construction by an international work force which included such a diverse group as native laborers to experienced American engineers. It’s construction, filled with national and financial defeat as well as personal loss is still considered one of the greatest engineering triumphs of modern times.
The Panama Canal is still one of the most highly traveled waterways in the world, handling 12,000 ships per year. It takes approximately nine hours to cross the fifty mile expanse. The Panama Canal, by providing a short and relatively inexpensive route between the Atlantic and Pacific, has had major effects on the world’s economy and commercial development. It has not only influenced world trade patterns and contributed to the growth of developed countries, but it has also been responsible for the economic expansion of many remote areas of the world. It operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year transiting vessels of all nations. Since the opening of the waterway to world commerce, the canal has provided quality transit service to more than 700,000 vessels. Although the U.S. has controlled the Panama Canal Zone since 1903, a treaty approved by Panama's voters in 1977 and by the U.S. Senate in 1978 will give Panama control of the canal on December 31, 1999. In the year 2000, the canal will be the sole property of Panama, but the canal will remain neutral with the United States reserving the right to protect it.