Panama Canal Creation

An Alum

Is it true that a UW grad helped create the Panama Canal?

Abe

It is! Edward Schildhauer 1897 served as a mechanical and electrical engineer on the Panama Canal project from 1906 to 1914, and as such, he became one of the most influential people in the shipping industry in the 20th century. Schildhauer helped design the canal’s locks — and particularly the lock gates. The locks are perhaps the most important part of the canal — they’re the chambers that can be filled with or drained of water to help ships climb over the isthmus between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Schildhauer designed massive machinery, including gear wheels that were more than 20 feet in diameter, to work the huge gates. The locks are also the most constricted parts of the canal. If a ship is longer or wider than any one of the locks, then it can’t pass through the canal. Schildhauer’s work helped to define what shipbuilders call “Panamax,” which operated as a maximum size for cargo and naval ships for many years. Between 2007 and 2016, the canal expanded with a new set of larger locks. But over the course of a century, more than 800,000 ships passed through Schildhauer’s locks, all of them Panamax or smaller.