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Ethical Issues from the Panama Canal Failure

Ethical Issues from the Panama Canal Failure
Course Highlights

This online engineering PDH course will examine the ethical issues that arose from the attempt by French commercial and government interests to build a maritime canal across the isthmus of Panama in the 1880s.  The United States subsequently successfully constructed a Panama Canal but this earlier French project was an abject engineering, commercial and financial failure that resulted in thousands of deaths and the loss of billions of investor dollars.  The primary engineering issues were route and alignment selection, soils engineering, tidal control and seasonal flood control.


The ethical lesson is about what can happen when political, financial and commercial goals override engineering considerations and result in a tragic project failure that provides lessons in engineering and public policy ethics that are as valid today as they were in the 19th century. This is a discussion of issues in ethics in a civil engineering project, but it has application in all engineering disciplines and fields of practice.


This 2 PDH online course is intended for engineers, architects and other design and construction professionals who need to understand that reasonable and prudent engineering methods and practices cannot be allowed to be overridden by commercial and political goals of project promoters.  This course will give engineers and others an ethical framework within which to address many complex engineering projects that challenge the limits of engineering theoretical knowledge and experience.

Learning Objectives

This PE continuing education course is intended to provide you with the following specific knowledge and skills:

  • Learning about the history of the project and the economic and political issues that shaped its development
  • Learning about the French commercial and government interests that promoted this project
  • Learning about the engineering issues that were overridden by the French commercial interests
  • Learning about the competing routes for the canal, and how the specific route and alignment in Panama came to be selected
  • Learning how rudimentary soils engineering principles and practices were ignored by French promoters of the project
  • Understanding how the project was undertaken without an engineering plan for the critical transection of the canal and the Chagres River
  • Understanding how the project was undertaken without an engineering plan for managing differential tidal fluctuations in the Atlantic and Pacific
  • Knowing the political machinations by French interests to obtain an exclusive franchise to build the canal in Panama
  • Understanding how the pressure on French canal promoters to produce a profitable project overrode good engineering methods and practices
  • Understanding how engineers need to avoid similar ethical traps in the future
Course Document

In this professional engineering CEU course, you need to review the course document titled, "Ethical Issues from the Panama Canal Failure".

To view, print and study the course document, please click on the following link(s):
Ethical Issues from the Panama Canal Failure (2.3 MB)
Course Quiz
Once you complete your course review, you need to take a multiple-choice quiz consisting of fifteen (15) questions to earn 2 PDH credits. The quiz will be based on the entire document.


The minimum passing score is 70%. There is no time limit on the quiz, and you can take it multiple times until you pass at no additional cost.
Certificate of Completion

Upon successful completion of the quiz, print your Certificate of Completion instantly. (Note: if you are paying by check or money order, you will be able to print it after we receive your payment.) For your convenience, we will also email it to you. Please note that you can log in to your account at any time to access and print your Certificate of Completion.

To buy the course and take the quiz, please click on: