A legend of human struggle, a marvel of economics and a daily triumph of engineering, the Panama Canal is a captivating, real-life story as well as an awe-inspiring system to watch at work. The tale of the effort to connect two oceans begins in 1539, when the first Spanish team studied the feasibility of such a project, and in 1880 the French began actually attempting the construction. Over 20,000 people died from the insurmountable challenges of dense jungle, torrential rain, and rampant diseases, and the Canal was abandoned until the United States bought control of the zone in 1903. After completion in 1914, it stretched 48 miles (77 kilometers) between the coasts, and today about 13,000 ships representing 5% of global trade pass through the Canal each year. Ships around the world are built to fit smoothly through the three locks that function like enormous steps over the isthmus, and pay a fee according to weight to make the 8 to 10-hour transit. The record for the heaviest ship to pass through the Canal is frequently redefined, but the smallest fee was paid in 1928, when Richard Halliburton swam through for PAB0.36.