The United States spent almost $375,000,000 (roughly equivalent to $8,600,000,000 today), including $12,000,000 to build facilities, guard the canal, and finish the project. This was by far the largest American engineering project ever.
The Panama Canal was formally opened on August 15, 1914, with the passage of the cargo ship SS Ancon.
Coincidentally, this was also the same month that fighting in World War I began in Europe.
Advances in hygiene resulted in a relatively low death toll during the American phase of construction; still, about 5,600 workers died building the canal from 1904 through 1914, bringing the total death toll for construction of the Panama Canal to around 27,500.
- The Ancon entering the west chamber of the Panama Canal August 15, 1914
The SS Ancon was an American steamship that began as the SS Shawmut, built for the Boston Steamship Line in 1902 at Sparrows Point, Maryland by the Maryland Steel Company.
Around 1910, the Shawmut was purchased by the Panama Railroad Company to provide shipping of the supplies required for the construction of the Panama Canal.
The name Shawmut was changed to Ancon after Ancon Hill and Ancon township in Panama, home to the head of the Canal Commission.
The SS Ancon and her sister ship Cristobal played a crucial role in building the canal, bringing workers and supplies, notably massive amounts of cement, from New York to Panama.
Then on August 15, 1914 the SS Ancon made the first official transit of the canal as part the canal’s opening ceremonies. (Her sister ship Cristobal had made the first unofficial transit on August 3rd, delivering a load of cement, while an old French crane boat Alexandre La Valley had crossed the canal from the Atlantic in stages during construction, finally reaching the Pacific on January 7, 1914.)
Five days after World War I ended November 11, 1918, the United States acquired the Ancon and was outfitted as a troop transport to bring our soldiers home from Europe.
The USS Ancon was commissioned March 28, 1919 with Lt. Comdr. Milan L. Pittman in command.
- USS Ancon at port in 1919, while serving as a troop transport.
The USS Ancon was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet’s Cruiser and Transport Force where she made two round-trip voyages from the United States to France to bring American servicemen home.
The USS Ancon’s brief Navy career lasted only four months.
Following her second voyage, she was decommissioned at New York City on July 25, 1919.
Now WE know em