U.S. Army doctor Col. William Gorgas paved the way for the construction of the Panama Canal by destroying the mosquitoes that spread disease and doomed an earlier French effort.


When the Panama Canal Commission began construction in 1904, they began with the remains of a failed French canal. The French effort ended in bankruptcy in part because too many workers were hospitalized or died due to infections of malaria and yellow fever. Some estimates put it as high as one-third of all workers.

Photo: The Field Museum Library via Wikipedia

Progress was slow, but success did come. The campaign launched in the summer of 1905. In Aug. 1906, new yellow fever cases were at less than half of their historical norm. After Nov. 1906, no more canal workers would die of yellow fever. Malaria never went away completely, but in Jan. 1910 the death rate fell to 1 percent of the historical norm.

Gorgas went on to fight disease in South African gold mines before becoming the Army's 22nd Surgeon General.