August 15, 1914: Panama Canal Opened and World War I Began

August 15, 1914: Panama Canal Opened and World War I Began

When my grandfather and his cousins arrived in San Francisco on the San Juan in March 1914, Congress was planning a grand opening of the Panama Canal with an international parade of ships in January 1915.


June 28, 1914: Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian nationalist.  Austria-Hungary, like many in countries around the world, blamed the Serbian government for the attack and wanted to use the incident as justification for settling the question of Serbian nationalism once and for all.

July 5: Kaiser Wilhelm pledged German support for Austria-Hungary.  With that backing, Austria-Hungary sent an ultimatum to Serbia, with such harsh terms that they did not accept it.  Serbia mobilized the army and asked for Russia’s help.

July 28: Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Serbia lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany.

August 4: German troops attacked Belgium, which was supposedly neutral, and ran over Belgium into France.

August 15: The Panama Canal officially opened.  The low-key passage of the U.S. ship Ancon was dwarfed by headlines:

The Ancon, Opening the Panama Canal, from the University of Florida Panama Canal Museum, digital collection.



Panama Canal Opens

Japan resolved to declare war upon Germany

Panama Canal Open to World

Although the United States remained ostensibly neutral, the international situation was such that the grand opening never happened.

Maybe it was because many Americans believed the situation in Europe, Asia, and Africa didn’t affect us that the Panama Pacific International Exposition, February to December, 1915, opened as scheduled and boasted over 18 million visitors by the time it closed.  In spite of German submarine attacks and outrage over the sinking of the Lusitania in May, 1915, it was not until April 1917, that the U.S. entered the war.



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