Panama drew international attention when it was discovered to be the thinnest land mass between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. A canal here could save traders the arduous 8,000 mile (12,875 km) journey around South America.
And so the mission began. The French gave it a shot for 9 years, but gave up after they lost 20,000 lives and beaucoup francs. The United Stated decided to give it a go, but its chief engineer soon became overwhelmed and quit. The project was expensive and unpopular. But determined to see the project completed, President Teddy Roosevelt made history as the first U.S. president to ever leave the country by making a public relations trip to the Panama Canal. He stated, “while the debate goes on, the canal does also.” As a result, the U.S. successfully finished the project 14 years later. The Panama Canal was one of the most ambitious – and ultimately successful – government projects of its time.