Ferdinand de Lesseps arrived in Panama in 1879 as the most famous engineer in the world. He had accomplished the impossible: the construction of the Suez Canal. Five years later, de Lesseps' reputation was in tatters.
The French-backed attempt to build a canal through Central America collapsed after gross financial mismanagement and a vast underestimation of the project's environmental complexities. It would take another three decades for a canal to be completed.