The Panama Canal is a major engineering feat that has been connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans since 1914. It was the result of a long and complex process that began in the early 19th century, when the United States first began to explore the possibility of building a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. In 1850, the United States began construction of the Panama Railroad (now called the Panama Railroad) to cross the isthmus. This was followed by a failed attempt to build a canal through what was then the Colombian province of Panama in 1881. The success of the Erie Canal through downtown New York, in the United States, in the 1820s, and the collapse of the Spanish Empire in Latin America provoked growing American interest in building an interoceanic canal. In 1903, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, as Panama's ambassador to the United States, signed the Hay—Bunau-Varilla Treaty, which granted the United States the rights to build and administer the Panama Canal Zone and its defenses indefinitely.
The Senate ratified this treaty on February 23, 1904. Theodore Roosevelt appointed John Findley Wallace, formerly chief engineer and finally general manager of the Illinois Central Railroad, as chief engineer of the Panama Canal Project. Construction began in 1904 and was completed in 1914. The Aspinwall route included steamboat trips from New York City to Panama and from Panama to California, with land transportation through Panama. After World War II, U. S.
control of the canal and the surrounding Canal Zone became controversial; relations between Panama and the United States became increasingly tense. On December 31, 1999, full control of Panama was granted to Panama and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) assumed control of the waterway. There is now a flourishing residential market in the former Canal Zone, and a large part around the canal is an untouched rainforest, making it a hotbed of ecotourism.