History: Grand Triumph of the Suez Canal

Mozelle Martin

The idea of linking canals to other bodies of water is nothing new. One of these ideas was in the mind of many forward-thinking individuals for centuries before linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea became a reality.

In 1859, French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps struck his shovel into the ground. That's the exact moment that the site of this ground-breaking ritual became the birthplace of the Suez Canal.

Nearly 2.5 million workers would toil, and 125,000 died during the 10 years it took to move 97 million cubic yards of earth. The goal was to build a 100-mile Sinai shortcut. This shortcut was so impressive that it rendered the 10,000-mile sea journey from Europe to Africa and India unnecessary.

De Lesseps convinced Egypt's King Sa'id to grant him permission to build and operate the canal for nearly 100 years. The king was a personal friend of De Lesseps, so he was given permission. As a result, French investors were excited about the ability to fund 75% of the 200 million francs ($50 million USD) needed to bring this project to fruition.

King Sa'id personally invested 25% in keeping the project from going under. Initially, the British called it financial lunacy. Ironically, they appeared correct in their bias when the canal's final cost was double the original estimate.

At its completion, the Suez Canal hyper-expanded world trade by reducing sailing costs and shaving off many man-hours. De Lesseps was then proclaimed the "world's greatest canal digger."

As for the British?

They spent the next two decades trying to gain control of the Suez Canal because they were leery of France's new backdoor into the Indian empire.

Read more history and details about this canal at Suez Canal Authority and History.

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Suez CanalPhoto byEncyclopedia Britannica

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