Magazine article Geographical

Plan General Du Canal, 1886

Magazine article Geographical

Plan General Du Canal, 1886

Article excerpt

You have to admire the optimism. Fresh from the successful opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, an historic joining of the Red and Mediterranean Seas, French diplomat and enterprising businessman Ferdinand de Lesseps turned his attention to the narrow strip of land in modern-day Panama which was forcing ships to navigate the long and treacherous route around Cape Horn, Chile, to get between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. His goal: to repeat the triumph of Suez in the Americas.

'I maintain that Panama will be easier to make, easier to complete, and easier to keep up than Suez,' de Lesseps was quoted as saying. Unfortunately, he was destined to witness the project experience scandal, death, and ultimately stagnation, before his eventual passing in 1894.

Leading a research team organised by the Societe de Geographie, the Geographical Society of Paris, in 1876 de Lesseps founded the company La Societe Civile Internationale du Canal Interoceanique de Darien--the International Congress for Study of an Interoceanic Canal. He undertook multiple visits to the region, at the time controlled by Colombia, to scout out a route, which he determinedly aspired to keep lock-free, just like in Suez. In 1880, de Lesseps' young daughter had the honour of removing the first spade of earth, at the mouth of the Rio Grande, on the Pacific side of the isthmus.

All this scouting work was converted into the Plan General du Canal in 1886 by Parisian map-makers Erhard Freres, which depicted the heights and geological characteristics of the route. A colour lithograph, it involved the pressing of ink upon multiple dissected segments of linen, which were then joined to create the finished product. While it started out purely as a black-and-white printing process, this method of lithography became commercially popular in the mid-to-late 19th century, and offered multiple perspective depictions such as the one above. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.