The Panama Canal was opened for traffic, as I told you at the outset of our trip, in August, 1914. An official ceremonial opening had been planned for early in 1915, but this was abandoned owing to the war.
The Canal affords an alternative route to that round Cape Horn. The reduction in sea distances by the new route is specially noteworthy as regards the following voyages:
Between ports on the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards of the United States—saving, generally speaking, about 8,000 miles.
Between the eastern ports of North America and the western ports of South America.
Between European ports and the west coast of North, Central and South America. For instance, the reduction between Liverpool and American Pacific ports north of Panama is about 6,000 miles.
Between New York and Yokohama, via San Francisco—saving about 3,700 miles. Thus Yokohama is brought nearer to New York than to Liverpool (via Suez) by about 1,800 miles.
Between Sydney, Australia, and New York—saving about 3,800 miles. Thus Sydney is brought nearly 2,400 miles nearer to New York than to Liverpool. Between Wellington, New Zealand, and New York saving about 2,500 miles.
Soon after the short cut between the Atlantic and Pacific was available for traffic, first one landslip, then another blocked the way. There was trouble, too, over the matter of tolls. Gradually, however, the outlook brightened, and statistics show that there has recently been a marked increase in the Canal's popularity as a trade route. In October, 1922, the Panama Canal Record stated: "For the first time since the Canal has been opened to traffic, the amount of tolls collected has exceeded the million-dollar mark for three successive months. Tolls for the month were approximately 15 percent greater than tolls collected in September a year ago, while the amount of cargo carried through the Canal was 50 percent greater than September a year ago. . . . Eighteen commercial vessels and a navy tug transiting the Canal on October 19, made up one of the heaviest day's traffic recorded since the opening of the Canal."
Anyone who has seen the Canal in the making will sympathize with remarks commonly passed by travellers getting their first introduction to the trans-Isthmian waterway as they are taken through it in the ordinary course of a voyage.
Now that the Canal is open, the bulk of the construction work, and all the destruction work in the way of excavation, is under water; also the Gatun Lake is free of rotting vegetation and looks as if it had been in existence from time immemorial. Those of us who, having seen the Canal in the making, have the good fortune to travel through the finished waterway, only have to forget for a moment a past experience to understand why some of our fellow-passengers are exclaiming: "I wonder why it took such a long time to get this Canal job carried through," and "I can't see how the Americans managed to spend so much money in making this Canal," and "I don't see that the Americans did anything very wonderful in making this Canal—seems to me all their Biggest Job in the World talk was just Yankee swank."
It is quite sad to think that there are people without the necessary experience and knowledge to picture the everyday life of the Colony that once flourished "beneath" the waters and alongside the shores of the Panama Canal.
You may be interested to hear that I have asked several engineers, of different nationalities, whether they consider the Americans are justified in claiming that the Panama Canal is the biggest engineering job that has ever been undertaken. In every case the answer has been to this effect. Yes, nothing bigger has ever been undertaken, but several of the smaller jobs that have been accomplished are more wonderful engineering feats.