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Blessed Day font designed by Billy Argel.

Blessed Day font designed by Billy Argel.

Makers love asking themselves lots of “what if?” questions throughout their day.  I recently got to thinking, “What if Kickstarter videos were not about some future project, but were about some past project?”  It’s a fun creative exercise to imagine what people in history would have said if they had created a Kickstarter video for their project.  To start things off, here is a Historical Kickstarter from Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French engineer who launched the project to build the Panama Canal.   While de Lesseps did not succeed in completing the canal, he deserves a lot of credit for laying the groundwork for the later success by the American engineers who completed the Panama Canal.

In creating this video, I tried to become Ferdinand de Lesseps as described in different books I’ve read. All the facts and figures in this video are historically accurate, too.  And now it’s your turn. What would a Historical Kickstarter video look like made by the Wright Brothers? Neil Armstrong? Thomas Edison? And others? Use your imagination. It doesn’t have to be straight-laced. Feel free to embellish the historical story in amusing ways.

[Phil Shapiro is a maker and media maker in the Washingon DC-area. He loves open source,  digital storytelling and conducting panel discussions. He can be reached at  and on Twitter @philshapiro.]

Phil Shapiro

Phil Shapiro is a maker and media maker in the Washingon DC area. He loves open sourcedigital storytelling and fixing up donated computers to deliver to people who need them. He can be reached at and on Twitter @philshapiro.



  1. This could set Kickstarter back a decade. de Lesseps, for all his good intentions (and BIG ego), and the French company he put together to build the Panama Canal, went bankrupt, taking along the life savings of tens of thousands of “investors”, many average citizens caught up in the national frenzy to build the Panama Canal. 22,0000 French workers died trying the French Canal.

    It wouldn’t hurt if a few facts were right. The Panama Railroad, the first transcontinental rail road – was built in 1850, not 1825. Construction began in 1882

    While the construction of the Panama Canal was an amazing feat of engineering, it was a doctor, William C. Gorgas, who made the connection between mosquitos and malaria and yellow fever – THE thing that stopped de Lesseps. The best excavation equiptment in the world is useless if the operators die in a month or two.

    As for rain – Panama has only two seasons – Rainy Season and Dry Season, the latter usually falls on a Wednesday or Thursday, and then only rains once that day, as opposed to three or four times a day during the Rainy Season.

    Excavation of the canal involved cutting through the Contintal Divide – hard basalt that must be blasted and clay overlaying it that slides when the ground is saturated. NOT a trcial engineering challenge.

    I was born and raised in the Panama Canal Zone and spent a summer inking the original pencil drawings of crosss section of the canal – in 50 foot increments – that showed what had been removed in each cross section by month. I later spent a summer with the Panama Canal Company’s geologist, working on the widening of the Gaillard Cut. Watching a 10 ton field of high explosives go off in basalt is truly a sight to behold – and feel.

    While I realize that the video is intended to be fecetiouos (misspelling intentional), the idea probably isn’t a good way to publicize Kickstarter.