Even before the days of Google Earth, Panama was the logical candidate to shortcut the 8000 miles voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The 50-mile Central American isthmus was half the distance of the Suez Canal successfully completed by Ferdinand de Lesseps in 1869. But unlike the sea level ditch that was dug out of dry desert sand in Africa, Panama had a high and unstable rocky spine along with incessant rain and water. Lots and lots of water.
The French effort ultimately failed, bogged down by cost overruns and the tragic cost of lives. More than 20,000 workers died in this effort, not so much as the result of the back breaking toil, but because of tropical diseases that persisted unknowingly in all that water.