French Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, attended the inauguration ceremony. It took 15 years to complete the 100 mile canal across the Isthmus of Suez.
In 1856, the Suez Canal Company was formed and granted rights to operate the canal for 99 years after completion. (WWII changed that.) At first forced laborers used picks and shovels. Later, when the Europeans arrived to work it, so did the dredgers and steam shovels. This may have been a coincidence. Labor disputes and cholera interrupted the work, and the 1869 date was actually 4 years behind schedule.
Ferdinand de Lesseps, its builder, would later failure at an attempt to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama.
Today, an average of 50 ships navigate the canal daily, carrying more than 300 million tons of goods a year.