National Geographic: Adventures - Panama Canal: The Mountain and the Mosquito


through the construction zone,

focused on every detail of the job.

His cigars are so enormous

that the men call him "The Big Smoke."

But they respect him immediately.

Finally, they have a boss

who will listen.

"Mr. Stevens did not talk much

but asked questions

and could that man ask questions!

He found out everything I knew.

He turned me inside out and shook out

the last drop of information."

Frank Maltby, Division Head

After decades of back-breaking labor,

workers have slashed a route

through the jungle

that the canal is to follow.

By 1905, excavation is concentrated

in a mountainous area

of the Continental Divide.

Stevens is appalled at what he finds.

Trains lie rusting off their tracks.

Steam shovels lay idle.

Workers have no blueprints,

no guidance, no hope.

"I believe I faced about

as discouraging a proposition

as was ever presented

to a construction engineer.

I found no organization...

no answerable heads...

Nobody was working

but the ants and the typists."

In Panama, it has been this way

for more than 30 years.

For the Americans now;

for the French in the 1880s.

Having succeeded at linking Europe

and the Orient by building

the great Suez canal in Egypt,

the French try to repeat their success

in Central America.

They believe that slender Panama

should be an easy target.

It is a fatal miscalculation.

Disease, accidents, and exhaustion

take the lives of 22,000 laborers.

One man must succeed

where the world's best have failed.

Workers tell The Big Smoke

that their greatest worry

is the treacherous Culebra Cut,

the mountain pass where the French

lost the most men.

At Culebra, they must dig out

a man-made Grand Canyon.

A twisting, nine mile,

water-filled chasm as deep as a

Like the French, the Americans

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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    "National Geographic: Adventures - Panama Canal: The Mountain and the Mosquito" STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 9 Mar. 2021. <>.

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