- Lesseps, Ferdinand de
- (1805–1894)A French engineer and entrepreneur, born to a family of career diplomats, Lesseps was fascinated both by the culture of Egypt and by the patterns of commercial trade between East and West. It was after his retirement from the diplomatic service that Lesseps, encouraged by the accession to the viceroyalty of Egypt of Said Pasha in 1854, revived the Napoleonic idea of a canal connecting Mediterranean and Red Seas across the Isthmus of Suez. Despite the initial skepticism of British investors and the open hostility of the British government, Lesseps secured suf-ficient financial backing from France to begin digging in 1857. The Suez Canal opened in 1869.Fired by extraordinary self-confidence and influenced by the social ideas of the Saint-Simonians, Lesseps turned from his Suez triumph to the more ambitious and difficult project of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama in 1875. Riding the Suez reputation of Le Grand Français bestowed on him by Léon Gambetta, Lesseps appealed to small investors to raise capital but grossly underestimated the cost of the Panama project. Work began in 1881, but, when little progress was made over the following eight years, falling stock values and corruption precipitated the Panama Scandal. Lesseps and his son Charles were found guilty of mismanagement and sentenced to a lengthy imprisonment. Charles alone served one year. After his death at 89, Lesseps’s reputation was rehabilitated with an array of posthumous national honors.See also <
>.FURTHER READING:Beatty, Charles. Lesseps of Suez: The Man and His Times. New York: Harper Brothers, 1956;Karabell, Zachary. Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal. New York: Random House, 2003.CARL CAVANAGH HODGE
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.