Gatun Locks

Date: c. 1913
Owner: Library of Congress
Source Type: Buildings


This 1913 panoramic photograph shows the Gatun Locks in the final stages of construction. The Gatun Locks are located on the Caribbean side of Panama, just north of the Gatun Lake in the middle of the country. Although the initial plans were to build a sea level canal, a minority on the canal commission won approval for a three tier lock system which would use Gaton Lake as its high point, 85 feet above sea level. This lake could thus serve as the highest waterway while also providing water for the lower locks. Each of the three locks on either side of the lake were engineered to lift ships 27.4 feet, and each was 1000 feet long and 110 feet wide, made larger than initial French plans in order to accommodate U.S. battleships, which were the largest vessels of the time.

Despite remarkable technological achievements, the Panama Canal is fast becoming an inadequate means of passing between the oceans. At its current capacity, the canal can process about thirty-seven boats a day, but experts predict that the demand will be raised to fifty a day within the next half-century. In order to accommodate this increased traffic, plans are underway for either a second canal, which would be built at sea level, or more locks in the present waterway. Both promise to raise capacity by over 50%, but each would cost billions of dollars.

CITATION: Bird's eye view of Gatun Locks, Panama Canal. ca. 1913. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: LC-USZ62-128562.