James BUCHANAN EADS was a great engineer. Born in Indiana in 1820.
He wanted to build a gargantuan railway that would transport whole ships across 134 miles of land between the oceans at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest part of Mexico where the total distance between the east and west coast would be 2,000 miles shorter than a trip across Panama.
His idea was to raise the ships onto 350-foot-long flatcars. At either end of the isthmus a 450-foot-long submerged-pontoon dry dock would be loaded with a flatcar; the car would carry an adjustable cradle with hydraulic rams to make it conform to the shape of a ship’s hull.
Once the car and its cradle were on the pontoon, a ship would sail into position above them.
Then water would be pumped out of the dry dock to lift it up to the level of the tracks, where upon three outsized locomotives would hitch up and pull the car forward.
In the winter of 1887 he was vacationing in the Bahamas when he received word that the senate had finally approved the plan. But on march 8 that year he died, unaware that opponents in the house had just blocked it.
His grand scheme passed away with him, an audacious plan that just might have succeeded. In 1889 the French company building the canal went bankrupt, plagued by soaring costs, financial scandals, and ruinous disease at the work site.
The United States finished the canal in 1914, 33 year after lesseps (French diplomat who had overseen the construction of the Suez canal, proposed a Panama canal) had started it, at a cost of $352,000,000
* Summarized of “Invention & Technology”, 2003