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Ferdinand De Lesseps
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Diplomat
    (November 19, 1805-December 7, 1894)
    Born in Versailles, France
    French consul in Lisbon, Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo, Rotterdam, Barcelona and Madrid
    Formed the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez to build the Suez Canal linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas (1858)
    Formed the Panama Canal Company to build a canal through Panama linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (1879)
    He predicted the Panama Canal would cost 658 million francs and require eight years to complete (1880).
    Instead, eight years later the Panama Canal Company went bankrupt and the little work that had been completed was being reclaimed by the jungle.
    He and his son Charles were convicted on charges of mismanagement and bribing politicians to secure financial aid from the French government (1893).
    Ironically, his name was used by Gamal Abdel Nasser as the code word for the Egyptian army to seize the headquarters of the Suez Canal Company (July 26, 1956), the first step in nationalizing the Canal.
    His statue was removed from the entrance of the Suez Canal to symbolize the end of European control.
    He received the Legion of Honor after using his position as consul to protect civilians during a revolt in Barcelona (1842).
    His first wife and one of his sons died within days of each other (1853).
    He oversaw the completion of the Suez Canal despite active opposition from the British government.
    The French President declared him 'the greatest Frenchman.' (1879)
    As president of the Franco-American Union, he formally presented the Statue of Liberty to the US (1884).
    The failure of the Panama Canal effort was mostly due to factors beyond his control: namely, no one at the time knew how to prevent malaria and yellow fever, which decimated the work force.

Credit: C. Fishel


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