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In the mid 19th century, the rush of settlers to California and Oregon created an initial incentive to build an artificial waterway across the Isthmus of Panama, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French entrepreneur who completed the Suez Canal, was awarded the canal's rights. Construction started in 1881, but several setbacks led to the bankruptcy of Lesseps' company in 1889. Three years later a former chief engineer Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla acquired the assets of the company.
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