The United States initiated and funded the project, which cost 20 million U.S. dollars at the time. Up until its completion, the only way for vehicles to cross the Panama Canal was by a small swinging road bridge at the Gatun Locks or a swinging road and rail bridge at Miraflores Locks. Both had a very limited capacity. The United States hoped to make it much easier to cross the Panama Canal and to reconnect Colon and Panama City, which were cut off from the rest of their republic.
Building the Bridge of Americas
When the Panama Canal was first built in the early 20th century it was recognized that it would create a physical barrier between Colon and Panama City and the rest of the country. Up until 1942 two ferries shuttled vehicles from one side of the canal to the other and until 1962, when two swinging bridges with limited capacity were added to help move vehicles to either side.
Even back in 1923, the need for a permanent bridge or structure spanning the canal was given priority. Finally in 1955 the Remon-Eisenhower Treaty commissioned the United States to initiate and fund the project.
The Bridge of Americas, which is 5,425 feet long, took three years to build and upon completion stood 384 feet above sea level, leaving a clearance of 200 feet for ships passing below during high tide.
At first it was called the Thatcher Ferry Bridge in honor of the original ferry that helped vehicles cross the canal. Just a decade after the bridge was officially commissioned it was unofficially renamed as the Bridge of Americas, much preferred by the Panamanian government. Only in 1979 was the bridge officially renamed.