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Construction Begins on the Suez Canal

After the formation of the Suez Canal Company in December of 1858, construction began on the Suez Canal at its northern terminus in what would become Port Said on April 25, 1859. Archaeological evidence of the Suez Isthmus, which is located in modern day Egypt, shows the presence of canals in the region as early at the 6th century BC. This canal, known at the Canal of the Pharaohs, connected the Nile with the Gulf of Suez in the Red Sea. Other canals were also built in the area until around 1000AD.

Discovering archaeological evidence of these canals, the French began looking for a way to expedite trade to the east by cutting through the 75 mile wide isthmus. The canal took 10 years to build and was completed on November 17, 1869. Forced labor, particularly of Egyptians, was used to excavate and build the canal. Thousands of laborers are said to have died. The original length of the canal was 102 miles, with a depth of 26 feet, but, to accommodate more and larger ships, it has been enlarged to around 120 miles long and 79 feet deep.

Due to the relatively flat terrain of the Isthmus of Suez, the canal has no locks. The canal is wide enough for one shipping lane, but there are by-passes to allow for two-way traffic. Ships using the canal travel in a group at a slow speed, around 9 mph, to reduce erosion on the canal banks. A one-way passage on the canal takes between 11 and 16 hours. Even at these slow speeds, the canal dramatically shortens the trip east from the Mediterranean and about 7.5% of the world’s sea trade travels through the Suez Canal.  

 Items in Our Collection:

 Parting the desert: the creation of the Suez Canal by Zachary Karabell

Between two seas; the creation of the Suez Canal by Patrick Balfour Kinross, Baron

The Suez canal: its past, present, and future by Arnold Talbot Wilson, Sir