“A Man, a Plan, a Canal — Panama”: everyone knows the piece of infrastructure to which this well-known palindrome refers. However who, precisely, is the person? Some may think President Theodore Roosevelt within the position, given his oversight of the venture’s acquisition by the US of America. Nevertheless it’s extra generally considered George W. Goethals, the Roosevelt-appointed chief engineer who introduced it to completion two years early. Then once more, one might additionally make the case for French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps, who initially conceived of not solely the Panama Canal but in addition the Suez Canal. And so long as we’re reaching again in historical past, how does Leonardo da Vinci strike you?
True, Leonardo died roughly 4 centuries earlier than the Panama Canal broke floor. However that its mechanism works in any respect owes to one in every of his many innovations: the miter lock, documented in one in every of his notebooks from 1497. The design, as defined in the Lesics video above, entails “two V-shaped wood gates” connected with hinges to the edges of a river.
Given their form, the water flowing by way of the river naturally forces the gates to shut, one facet forming a neat joint with the opposite. Inside, “because the water degree rises, the strain on the gate will increase,” which seals it much more tightly. To facilitate re-opening the “good watertight lock” thus fashioned, Leonardo additionally specified a set of sluice valves within the gates that may be opened to even out the water ranges once more.
The 20th-century builders of the Panama Canal benefited from applied sciences unavailable in Leonardo’s time: highly effective motors, as an example, that might open and shut the gates extra effectively than human muscle. And although it has undergone enhancements over the previous century (such because the alternative of the geared system connected to these motors with much more efficient hydraulic cylinders), its construction and operation stay visibly derived from Leonardo’s elegant miter lock, as do these of the Suez Canal. About 80 ships go by way of these two well-known waterways each day, and ships of a dimension scarcely conceivable within the fifteenth century at that: not unhealthy for a pair items of 500-year-old engineering.
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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His tasks embody the Substack e-newsletter Books on Cities, the guide The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll by way of Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The Metropolis in Cinema. Observe him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.