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What T. R. Took: The Economic Impact of the Panama Canal, 1903–1937

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2008

Associate Professor of Business Administration, Business, Government, and the International Economy unit, Harvard Business School, Soldiers Field, Boston, MA 02163–9986. E-mail:
Research Associate, Harvard Business School, Soldiers Field, Boston, MA 02163–9986. E-mail:


The Panama Canal was one of the largest public investments of its time. In the first decade of its operation, the canal produced significant social returns for the United States. Most of these returns were due to the transportation of petroleum from California to the East Coast. The United States also succeeded in leveraging the threat of military force to obtain a much better deal from the Panamanian government than it could have negotiated otherwise.

“I took the Isthmus.” President Theodore Roosevelt, 1904

“Why, it's ours, we stole it fair and square.” Senator Samuel Hayakawa, 1977

Copyright © The Economic History Association 2008

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