Balbreck Wye Level

The Panama Canal links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through Central America. The idea of a waterway of this sort had been raised many times since Columbus's first voyage to America in 1492, but the discovery of gold in California in 1848, as well as the improvement of various technologies, brought increased urgency to the idea. The French engineers and investors who began to design and dig the Canal in the early 1880s were stopped by disease and lack of funds. Americans completed the project in 1914.
Since the 1720s, surveyors have used telesopic levels to draw level surfaces and to determine the differences in altitude between several points. This example—marked "Balbeck ainé, Bvd Montparnasse, 81. Paris" and "Canal de Panama"— was made for the French team that laid out a Panama Canal in the 1880s.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
date made
ca 1880
Balbreck ainé et fils
Physical Description
nickel plated brass (overall material)
telescope: 15 in; 38.1 cm
place made
France: Île-de-France, Paris
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
Measuring & Mapping
Surveying and Geodesy
Building the Panama Canal
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Surveying and Geodesy
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

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