French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps’ (1805-1894) epic work on the Suez Canal was over-shadowed by a later equally grand engineering project with a very different outcome. What was this?

Answer: De Lesseps was the driving force behind the Suez Canal, which in 1869 joined the Mediterranean and Red Seas, substantially reducing sailing distances and times between the West and the East.

The Suez Canal revolutionised world travel and transformed international trade, and de Lesseps became internationally famous.

Having succeeded in this magnificent task, he turned his mind to the issue of building a canal across Central America, thereby greatly cutting sailing distances, between America and the rest of the world.

Building a canal in flat, hot, dry Egypt, however, proved vastly different, to doing the same, in tropical, epidemic and landslide-prone Panama.

De Lessep’s involvement in the Panama Canal was a disaster, and his reputation, against the background of financial scandal brought about by others, was ruined.

Source: The History of the Suez Canal: A Personal Narrative by Ferdinand de Lesseps

More at: History

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