Lesseps, Ferdinand Marie, vicomte de

Lesseps, Ferdinand Marie, vicomte de fĕrdēnäNˈ märēˈ vēkôNtˈ də lĕsĕpsˈ [key], 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Civil Engineering: Biographies