The United States became interested in Panama in the mid-1800s. Various nations wanted to build a canal across Central America as a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Such a canal would have enormous commercial and military value. During the Spanish-American War, the battleship USS Oregon had to travel almost 14,000 miles around the tip of South America to get from California to Cuba. A canal would shorten the journey to just under 5,000 miles.
The narrow Isthmus of Panama was part of Colombia. The Roosevelt administration tried to lease land in Panama for a canal, but the Colombian government turned down the offer. In 1903, the United States encouraged a revolt in Panama. Roosevelt sent warships to prevent Colombian troops from intervening. The revolt succeeded, and the United States quickly recognized Panama as an independent nation.