Trivia Minute November 17, 2015

The Suez Canal Opens

by Marcus Michelson
USS America in the Sue Canal in 1981. (Photo by W.M. Welch via Wikimedia Commons)
USS America in the Suez Canal in 1981. (Photo by W.M. Welch via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1869, the Suez Canal opened.

Here are some things you may not have known about it.

The Suez Canal links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, and cuts 4,300 miles off the shipping distance from Europe to South Asia. It’s a sea level canal, so unlike the Panama Canal there are no locks and the water flows freely.

The northern end of the canal is located at Port Said, Egypt. The southern end is 100 miles south at the city of Suez.

Work started on the canal in 1859 under a French company and continued for 10 years using forced laborers, thousands of whom died during the construction. Great Britain opposed the construction of the canal. As the dominant naval force at the time, the British benefited from the status quo.

Construction was completed in 1869. The entire project cost more than double the original estimate. The first ship scheduled to transit the canal was the French Imperial Yacht L’Aigle. However the British HMS Newport snuck through the waiting ships and moved to the front of the line, horrifying the French. The captain of the Newport was officially reprimanded, and unofficially praised by the British Admiralty.

Because of its strategic location, the Suez Canal has figured prominently in military engagements, including the Suez Crisis and the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973.

The canal underwent an expansion in 2014, allowing approximately 76 ships to use the canal each day.

Our question, which is longer, the Panama Canal or the Suez Canal?

Today is International Students’ Day. In the United States, it’s also National Baklava Day and National Take a Hike Day. It’s the birthday of actor Peter Cook, television producer Lorne Michaels and actor Danny DeVito.

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