Learn about Life in the 1920s


WORK NOW IN PROGRESS for further increasing the capacity of this pioneer interoceanic waterway is described in The Compressed Air Magazine (New York) by F. A. Choffel.

As first constructed, he tells us, the canal had a total length of 102 miles, but this has since been increased 2 1/2 miles by the building of important works at Port Said, including a safety embankment, which became necessary owing to the strong currents which induced silting. In the early days of the digging, the work was executed by manual labor, and in some cases the mud was actually cleared away with bare hands, so it is said. Up to 1865, more than 30,000 laborers worked simultaneously on the job. After that date machinery was used on a large scale, and steam dredges pumped up the sand and discharged the excavated material through metallic piping to points 200 feet away on either side. We read:

"Unlike the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal has no locks. As first constructed, the canal had a depth of 26 feet. Later, this was increased to 36 feet; and work now in hand, when finished, will insure an average depth of not less than 40 feet. Big steamers now passing through the canal draw a maximum of 31 feet, and craft having a draft of 33 feet will use the waterway before long. In short, the growth of shipping compels the continual amplifying of the canal's dimensions so as to provide suitable leeway for the safe movement of the great tide of traffic.

"Originally, the bottom width of the canal was but 72 feet, while at present it is 150 feet. The intention is to augment this to 300 feet. To-day, the surface width of the canal varies from 310 feet to 525 at some points. The minimum width is to be increased to 440 feet. Formerly, it was not possible for ships of more than 4,000 tons to traverse the canal, but now vessels of 20,000 tons can make the run.


"The trip through the canal takes 16 hours —only 14 of which represent progress. About 15 ships go through the canal every twenty-four hours; and their navigation is supervised by expert pilots. In 1870, the number of vessels using the canal was 486, representing a total of 436,609 net tons. During 1913, a matter of 5,085 ships entered the canal, and these vessels had a registered capacity of 20,033,884 net tonnage. Naturally traffic was interrupted during the World War. Recovery has been hampered, but the latest figures available--those for 1923 show that 4,621 craft then used the canal with a net tonnage of 22,730,162.

"Where the banks of the canal are protected by a surfacing of rock, this rock, as well as similar material for the construction of embankments in Port Said, has been obtained at inland quarries in the neighborhood of Suez. These quarries are equipped with up-to-date air-driven rock-drills, and are now in full operation.

"The workshops maintained in Port Said by the canal company are of importance and employ something like 1,200 mechanics. These workers are. kept busy repairing and overhauling a considerable fleet of powerful tugs, steam dredges, floating cranes, etc.

"Three towns have been called into being along the canal. These are Port Said, on the shore of the Mediterranean, having a population of 70,000; Ismailia, situated near the mid-length of the canal; and Port Tewfik, at the Red Sea outlet of the canal and about two miles from the Village of Suez. Port Said is. the industrial center of the canal zone, while Ismailia is the seat of administrative headquarters."

Source: "The Literary Digest" September 12, 1925