The Suez Canal, connecting the
Mediterranean and the Red Seas, almost cut
in half the time it took to get from London to
Construction on the 100-mile canal began in
April of 1859. At first, digging was done by
hand with pick and shovels. Later, European
workers arrived with dredgers and steam
The Suez Canal was not completed until
1869--four years behind schedule--due to
labor disputes and a cholera epidemic.
On November 17, 1869, it was open to
When it opened, the canal was only 25 feet
deep, 75 feet wide at the bottom and 200-300
feet wide at the top. Fewer than 500 ships
went down it its first year.
Major improvements began in 1876, and the
canal soon grew into one of the world's most
traveled shipping lanes.
The canal was run by the Suez Canal
Company until July 1956, when Egypt
nationalized the canal. British, French and
Israeli troops fought to take it back, but finally
withdrew under U.S. pressure. The crisis
marked the severe weakening of Britain and
France as world powers.