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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/259

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253
THE PANAMA ROUTE FOR A SHIP CANAL.
prosperity in 1585, and was called with good reason the toll-gate between western Europe and eastern Asia. Meanwhile the commerce, whose tolls only brought such benefits to Panama, enriched Spain, and her people were generously rewarded for the aid given by Ferdinand and Isabella in the effort to open a direct route westward to Cathay, notwithstanding the disadvantages of the isthmian transit.

This commercial prosperity suggested to those interested in it, and soon after its beginning, the possibility of a ship canal to connect the waters of the two oceans. It is stated even that Charles V. directed that survey should be made for the purpose of determining the feasibility of such a work as early as 1520.

The governor, Pascual Andagoya, reported that such a work was impracticable and that no king, however powerful he might be, was capable of forming a junction of the two seas or of furnishing the means of carrying out such an undertaking.

From that time on the city of Panama increased in wealth and population in consequence of its commercial importance. Trade was established with the west coast of South America and with the ports on the Pacific coast of Central America. In spite of the fact that it was made by the Spaniards a fortress second in strength in America only to old Cartagena it was sacked and burned by Morgan's buccaneers in February, 1671. The new city, that is the present city, was founded in 1673, it not being considered advisable to rebuild on the old site.

The project of a canal on this route was kept alive for more than three centuries by agitation, sometimes active, and sometimes apparently dying out for long periods until there was organized in Paris in 1876 a company entitled 'Société Civile Internationale du Canal Interocéanique,' with Gen. Etienne Turr as president, for the purpose of making surveys and explorations for a ship canal between the two oceans on this route.

The work on the isthmus for this company was prosecuted under the direction of Lieut. L. N. B. Wyse, a French Naval Officer, and he obtained for his company in 1878 a concession from the Columbian Government conferring the requisite rights and privileges for the construction of a ship canal on the Panama route and the authority to do such other things as might be necessary or advisable in connection with that project. This concession is ordinarily known as the Wyse concession.

A general plan for this transisthmian canal was the subject of consideration at an international scientific congress convened in Paris in May, 1879, and composed of 135 delegates from France, Germany, Great Britain, the United States and other countries with a majority from France. This Congress was convened under the auspices of Ferdinand de Lesseps, and after remaining in session for two weeks a decision, not unanimous, was reached that an interoceanic canal