After the debacle of the French attempt to build a canal through Panama, informed US opinion tended to favour an alternative route through Nicaragua. However, the irrepressible Teddy Roosevelt favoured Panama, and when he became President in 1901 was ready to steamroller it through. When Colombia (of which Panama was then a province) demanded better terms for the Canal, Roosevelt sent US warships to back Panamanian independence. In November 1903, Panama duly declared independence, and immediately signed an agreement authorizing the US building of the Canal, plus US control of the 10-mile-wide (16-km) Canal Zone into the bargain. The Canal was eventually completed and opened in 1914, comprising twelve locks, two artificial lakes and four dams. It reduced the length of a sea-passage from New York to San Francisco by 7,800 miles (12,500 km). Considerable efforts were made to improve health and safety, but over 5,000 workers still died from disease and accidents during construction.
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