The building of the Panama Canal was arguably one of the biggest civil engineering projects in the world’s history. The project cost about $400 million and took about 10 years to complete (after France’s unsuccessful attempt to build it earlier).
The Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
When the French first started building the canal in the 1880s, 22,000 workers died (mainly from yellow fever and malaria) – which is the main reason they decided to give it up.
When the U.S. took over the canal building effort in 1904, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Colonel William Gorgas as Chief Sanitary Engineer – someone who knew that mosquitoes carried malaria – and not “bad air.” Gorgas had successfully eradicated yellow fever from Cuba in 1901. But the “mosquito theory” wasn’t very popular…and the Isthmian Canal Commission asked Roosevelt to replace Gorgas – whom they thought was focusing too much on mosquitoes.
Long story short? Roosevelt kept Gorgas on board and enabled him to deploy 4,000 people to fumigate homes, put up screens, eliminate standing water, and spray drains and pools with oil to kill mosquito larvae. By the end of December 1905, there were no more deaths from yellow fever in Panama.