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Darien ship Canal,

One of the great interoceanic canal projects which have attracted the attention of interested nations for many years, and, most particularly, the United States. In 1849 an Irish adventurer published a book in which he said he had crossed and recrossed the Isthmus of Darien, and that in the construction of a canal there only “3 or 4 miles of deep rock cutting” would be required. Believing this, an English company was formed for the purpose, with a capital of $75,000,000, and an engineer was sent to survey a route, who reported that the distance between “tidal effects” was only 30 miles, and the summit level only 150 feet. The governments of England, France, the United States, and New Granada joined, late in 1853, in an exploration of the best route for a canal. It was soon ascertained that the English engineer had never crossed the isthmus at all. The summit level to which he directed the expedition was 1,000 feet above tidewater, instead of 150 feet. The expedition effected nothing.

In 1854 Lieut. Isaac Strain led an [11] American expedition for the same purpose. They followed the route pointed out by the English engineer, and, after intense suffering, returned and reported the proposed route wholly impracticable. The success of the Suez Canal revived the project, and in 1870 two expeditions were sent out by the United States government—one under Commander T. O. Selfridge, of the United States navy, to Isthmus of Darien; and the other, under Captain Shufeldt, of the navy, to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Three routes were surveyed across the narrow part of the Isthmus of Darien by Selfridge, and he reported all three as having obstacles that made the construction of a canal impracticable. He reported a route by the Atrato and Napipi rivers as perfectly feasible. It would include 150 miles of river navigation and a canal less than 40 miles in extent. It would call for 3 miles of rock cutting 125 feet deep, and a tunnel of 5 miles, with a roof sufficiently high to admit the tallestmasted ships. Selfridge estimated the entire cost at $124,000,000. The whole matter was referred in 1872 to a commission to continue investigations. A French company undertook the construction of a canal between Aspinwall and Panama in 1881, under the direction of Ferdinand De Lesseps (q. v.). After expending many millions of dollars, the project was abandoned in 1890. See Clayton-Bulwer treaty; Panama Canal.

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