Vicomte Ferdinand, de LessepsBorn 19 Nov 1805; died 7 Dec 1894 at age 89. French diplomat, who supervised the construction of the Suez Canal. While in the consular service in Egypt he became aware of plans to link the Mediterranean and the Red Sea by means of a canal, and from 1854 onwards devoted himself to the project. Work began in 1859 and the Suez Canal was opened ten years later (1869). In 1881, he embarked on the building of the Panama Canal, but had not anticipated the difficulties of this very different enterprise. The climate, with its torrential rains, incessant heat and fatal disease, took its toll. Financial mismanagement, stock failure and bad publicity eventually forced the failure of the company. The project was abandoned in 1889. It was eventually completed by the United States.