The Panama Canal is a marvel of modern engineering, built at extraordinary cost of human life, natural beauty, and sheer monetary investment. Construction started in 1881 and was not completed until 1914. After it was opened in 1914, the canal was controlled by several different countries including Colombia, France, and the United States. From 1977 until 1999, the canal was controlled jointly by the US and Panama. Since 1999, Panama has exclusively controlled the canal, which is now managed and operated by a government entity called the Panama Canal Authority.
When the canal first opened in 1914, there were about 1,000 ships passing through each year. By 2008, that number had increased to 14,702 boats, barges, cruise liners, and other vessels each year. As of 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had traveled through the canal during the course of its nearly 100-year history.
Because the canal harnesses the power of changing tides to pass vessels through its 51 miles of waterways, traveling through the canal can be a slow process. In total, it takes more than 11 hours to pass through from one side of the canal to another.