Lead: In 1879, having completed one of the greatest engineering projects in history, the Suez Canal, Ferdinand, Vicomte de Lesseps, set out to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. For de Lesseps, it was one canal too many.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The completion of Suez would have been the accomplishment of a lifetime for most people, but Lesseps was restless. This time it would be Panama. He was confident he could pierce the tropical land bridge as he had the Egyptian desert. In 1879, to gain credibility for the project and to aid in the sale of stock, Lesseps hosted a meeting of the International Congress of Geographical Sciences. The conference endorsed the idea of a sea-level canal running through the heart of Panama, which at that time was a province of Columbia. Swayed by de Lesseps' charisma and reputation, the Congress ignored the prophetic recommendation of Adolphe Godin de Lepinay for a canal utilizing a system of locks on either end of a giant artificial lake. Lesseps' experience at Suez combined with an innate stubbornness, prevented him from considering that his plan might be headed for disaster.

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