American earth-moving machine, c 1885.
© National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
A photograph of a steam shovel employed in the construction of the Panama Canal, from an album documenting the construction of the canal entitled 'Canal Interoceanique de Panama.' The idea of a canal through the isthmus of Panama, linking the Atlantic with the Pacific, dates back to the 16th century. Potential savings in distance and journey times were enormous - for example, a saving of 18,000 miles on a trip from New York to San Francisco. However, it was not until 1880 that a company was established to build the Canal, headed by Frenchman Ferdinand de Leseps (1805-1894. The Panama Canal was constructed in two stages. The first, between 1881 and 1888, with work carried out by the French company and secondly by the Americans who finally completed the canal in 1914.