Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/167

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
155
INVENTIONS AT PANAMA.

use of explosives, then, an analogy exists between the Alpine and Panama undertakings. The introduction of nitro-glycerine proved in both cases of great advantage. At Suez, on the other hand, the occurrence of rock was rare, and blasting was resorted to only in exceptional cases.

While from such points of view analogies may be apportioned among the enterprises—two railroad and two ship-canal enterprises—which occupy us, it may not be denied that the work at Panama and machinery used for it bear a special resemblance to those at Suez. Nor may we lose sight of the fact that from an extra-scientific point of view, one individuality, one firm resolve, have, rather than other human agencies, accomplished in each case whatever has been done. As regards the enterprise first carried through, we have considered some of the advances made in the engineering and mechanic arts. To say that these have contributed to the feasibility of the work at Panama is to say but little. They alone, perhaps, have rendered it possible. But for them, the Paris Congress might not have been held; the Panama work might not have been even begun, still less in process of execution.

We come, finally, to the question of inventions in immediate connection with Panama. These seem to consist, thus far, chiefly in an increase in the size and power of the machines, whether dredges or excavators, employed. But ingenuity may at any time supply any need that develops itself, and it has effected part of what has been done already. An opinion formulated by the French Academy of Sciences in 1880, regarding inventions in connection with such work, has been quoted. Lieutenant N. B. Wyse, of the French Navy, whose plan for a sea-level canal was adopted by the Paris Congress, has also touched upon this point. He refers to objections urged against a sea level canal. The plan involved either a huge tunnel or a huge open cut; in either case the work would be much in excess of any of a like character hitherto attempted. He says, "The course of events, experience based upon precise observation, will undoubtedly suggest new processes, or processes scarcely caught sight of at the present day, so as to conquer the difficulties indicated."[1]

Such anticipations have not been entertained without cause. The major part of the excavation has not yet been done, but already the

  1. "Rapports sur les Études de la Commission Internationale d'Exploration de l'Isthme Américain, par Lucien N. B. Wyse," p. 56. Whatever the services of Lieutenant Wyse in the surveys of the Isthmus, between 1876 and 1879, it should be remarked that his work, published last year, "Le Canal de Panama," is not to be read without allowances. The rupture which occurred between himself and De Lesseps in 1880, due to the fact that Wyse, as he himself tells us, expected to be appointed director-general of the work, and was not so appointed, has led to acrid criticisms on his part upon the company. That part of his work which relates to his surveys—the larger part—possesses not a little interest, and is not perhaps open to much criticism; but, as regards his strictures upon the company, the fact referred to is to be kept in mind.