Teddy Roosevelt was the first sitting President to make a diplomatic trip abroad.

  • Panama Canal, 1906
Panama Canal, 1906
Everett Collection Historical/ Alamy Stock Photo

In 1904, the United States began its construction of the Panama Canal in the newly established Republic of Panama. The goal was to create a water passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, thus revolutionizing global trade by creating a shortcut through Central America. At the time, the canal was one of the largest and most ambitious construction projects the U.S. had ever undertaken. In 1906, two years into construction, President Theodore Roosevelt sailed to Panama to inspect the building site and check in on the project’s progress — a journey that made Roosevelt the first sitting U.S. President to make a diplomatic trip outside the country. 

Roosevelt received a royal welcome during his history-making visit to Panama; his arrival in Panama City was greeted with a parade featuring marching bands and police escorts on horseback. At the construction site, Panama’s first president, Manuel Amador Guerrero, gave a welcome address to Roosevelt; the two leaders then posed together in front of a cathedral. Later, Roosevelt was photographed at the controls of a large steam shovel, a lasting commemoration of the historic trip. After leaving Panama, Roosevelt paid a brief visit to Puerto Rico before returning home to the United States. All told, the diplomatic tour lasted 17 days, and set a new precedent for how the U.S. President engaged in foreign affairs.

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