Ferdinand Marie vicomte de Lesseps

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Ferdinand Marie Lesseps, vicomte de (fĕrdēnäN´ märē´ vēkôNt´ də lĕsĕps´), 1805–94, French diplomat and engineer. He entered the consular service in 1825 and was minister to Spain (1848–49). Later, while serving in Egypt, he conceived the idea of a Suez Canal, and in 1854 he obtained from Said Pasha, viceroy of Egypt, the concession for opening a passage through the Isthmus of Suez. He was the chief figure in organizing the canal company and raised, by popular subscription in France, over half the capital needed. He supervised the actual construction (1859–69) and achieved world renown when the venture proved successful. In 1878 he assumed the presidency of a French company formed to construct the Panama Canal, and work was begun in 1881. Lack of funds forced the project into bankruptcy seven years later, amid charges of corruption. Lesseps was brought to trial for misappropriation of funds and, together with his son, was sentenced to prison by the French government. The sentence, however, was not carried out, and most objective observers, then and since, have held Lesseps to have been guilty only of negligence.

See biography by C. R. L. Beatty (1956); study by J. Pudney (1969); Z. Karabell, Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal (2003).

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Lesseps, Ferdinand Marie, Vicomte de (1805–94) French diplomat and engineer. He conceived the idea of a canal through the isthmus of Suez, linking the Red Sea with the Mediterranean. He formed the Suez Canal Company, securing finance from the French government. Digging began in 1859, and the canal opened in November 1869. His scheme to construct the Panama Canal without using a system of locks began in 1879, but was abandoned seven years later with the failure of De Lesseps' company.