Through the Canal Bottom

Date: 1912
Owner: Prelinger Archive
Source Type: Videos


This motion picture from 1912 shows the Panama Canal's Culebra Cut in its final stages. The Cut, now known as the Gaillard Cut, was the most famous terraforming project during the canal's construction: it had to be widened to four times the original size (to deal with constant erosion) and was eventually flooded by the manmade Gaton Lake. The most formidable barrier between the two oceans was a line of mountains across central Panama but, at 275 feet above sea level, Culebra was the lowest point in this range and was thus the most feasible route. The massive amounts of digging, blasting, and earthmoving recounted in this video give some indication of the amount of earth that the Cut displaced. While lauding U.S. engineering feats, the narrator quickly glosses over (though does mention) the racial discrepancies within the labor force and, despite the many statistics listed, does not find the 5,609 deaths during U.S. supervision (1904-1914) to be worthy of note.

CITATION: Through the Canal Bottom. Duhem Motion Picture Company. 1912. Courtesy of the Prelinger Archive.