Procter and Gamble and the Panama Canal

When the company running the Panama Canal filed for bankruptcy in 1889, French supporters abandoned the idea of a canal in Panama, then a province of Colombia.

Nevertheless, engineer Philippe Bunau-Varilla dedicated eighteen years of his life to bring the French “Great Idea” to fruition and make the Panama Canal a reality.

Bunau-Varilla focused on the United States, a country that had been working for decades on a project to build a canal in Nicaragua. In order to convince the U.S. to change the “route” to Panama instead, Bunau-Varilla needed access to the most influential investors in the United States.

The opportunity came through Harley Thomas Procter, son of P&G founder William Procter and the man who gave Ivory Soap its name. Harley met Bunau-Varilla when visiting the Universal Expo in Paris in 1900. After listening to the engineer’s rationales in favor of the “Ruta Panameña” (Panamanian Route), Harley invited him to present the topic at the influential Commercial Club of Cincinnati (of which Bob McDonald, P&G CEO, is currently an active member).

Thanks to the invitation from Mr. Procter and Bunau-Varilla’s power of persuasion, other renowned organizations and politicians would eventually support the construction of the “Ruta Panameña.”

The novel entitled “Yo Tomé Panamá” tells his incredible story.


I Took Panama," the English translation of this novel, will be released on Amazon and iTunes in September 2012. To learn more go to: www.facebook.com/yotomepanama