The Erie Canal Is Completed. A massive fleet of boats assembled in New York harbor, and as the city celebrated, Clinton took a cask of water from Lake Erie and poured it into the Atlantic Ocean. The Erie Canal was the marvel of the age, and it was celebrated in songs, illustrations, paintings, and popular folklore. The Erie Canal checked that trend as the new s… The Erie required 83 locks, each made of stone, to move boats up and down the natural elevations. https://www.thoughtco.com/building-the-erie-canal-1773705 (accessed January 24, 2021). Adjunct instructor of history, Waynesburg University, Pennsylvania. The plans for building the canal were delayed by the War of 1812. Read the excerpt from William Seward’s The Building of the Erie Canal. History of the Erie Canal This history of the Erie Canal, prepared by the University of Rochester, offers a map of the canal system in 1868, a chart showing the "evolution" of boats, and a timeline. The Erie Canal opened today (5/15/2018), marking the 194th canal season since its auspicious opening in 1825 in New York. Under the leadership of Philip Schuyler, the company focused most of its activity on the Mohawk River, clearing the riverbed and digging several short canals to bypass river rapids. All of these were taken in Waterford at Lock 2, the entrance to the Erie Canal. You may want to think of yourself as an ancestor of your family during the 1800s. Take this quiz. It has been enlarged several times to accommodate larger boats and became part of the New York State Canal System in 1918. (Federal funds were sought, but were not legislated, so this canal and all subsequent canals in New York State were built and maintained exclusively with state funds.) Primary Source References. The laborers were mostly newly arrived immigrants from Ireland, and most of the work would be done with picks and shovels. Construction began in 1817 and was completed in 1825. Clinton promoted the idea of a great canal in New York State and became the driving force in having it constructed. Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students. George Washington proposed a canal that would provide reliable transportation into the continent, thereby helping to unite frontier America with the settled states. The locks were designed so that each needed only one person for its operation. The canal was built, yet it was limited in its function and never lived up to Washington's dream. Project the map The Erie Canal of New York and explain that engineers built the Erie Canal to create a water route for boats between Lake Erie and the Mohawk River. It was significant because it connected Lake Erie and the Great Lakes system to the Hudson River, and thereby gave the western states direct access to the Atlantic Ocean without shipping goods downstream on the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Right: Men on canal boat on Erie Canal -- photograph : b&w ; 7 x 9 in. The time to ship goods from Buffalo to New York was shortened from twenty days to six; and the cost per ton reduced from $1… The construction of the Erie Canal began in 1817 and in 1819 the first 15-mile (24 km) section, Rome to Utica opened. This is “a falsehood made up to explain a falsehood,” says Dan Ward, former curator at The Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse NY. He urged the building of a canal. New York was never to be the same, and many of the famous cities of upstate New York exist for the simple reason they were begun along the route of the Canal. Before the opening of the Erie Canal, New Orleans had been the only port city with an all-water route to the interior of the United States, and the few settlers in the Midwest had arrived mostly from the South. On the western side, the challenge was the Niagara Escarpment, a 23-metre (75-foot) rock ridge. According to the State of New York, 80 percent of the population of upstate New York still lives within 25 miles of the route of the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal soon began to change everything in America. It was the superhighway of its day and made vast amounts of commerce possible. During the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, prominent citizens of New York State pushed to have the federal government finance a canal that would proceed westward from the Hudson River. And many towns and cities sprang up along the canal, including Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. Interesting Facts about the Erie Canal Fifteen miles was the common distance a mule or horse would work before resting. The town that grew at this site was appropriately named Lockport. The Erie Canal was a huge and immediate success as a transportation artery. During the late 1700s and the early 1800s, many Americans called for a canal that would traverse the Appalachian Mountains. "Building the Erie Canal." And while Washington's canal was a failure, citizens of New York thought they might be able to construct a canal that would reach hundreds of miles westward. The Erie Canal provided the first waterway connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. The canal was 363 miles (584 kilometers) long, … Southerners had been moving up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers into southern Ohio and southern Indiana, which did become sympathetic to slavery, according to Jack Kelly, author of the new book Heavens Ditch: God, Gold and Murder on the Erie Canal. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Erie Canal at Schenectady . Erie Canal, historic waterway of the United States, connecting the Great Lakes with New York City via the Hudson River at Albany. In 1792 the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company was incorporated by the state of New York and given the rights to improve navigation on rivers and lakes west of Albany. The circle next to the answer will turn yellow. All of upstate New York and the upper Ohio River valley were now connected to New York. The Erie Canal for kids: Background History The Residents of New York first started to discuss the possibility of building a canal that linked the Atlantic coast and New York to the Great Lakes in the late 1700's. The Erie Canal Today By the late-1800s canals were overtaken by railroads as the most important form of transportation. The … Work was undertaken by multiple contractors who agreed to dig small sections of the canal. As more Irish laborers arrived the pace of construction picked up and overcame significant barriers. "[P]eople generally have more feeling for canals & roads than education. In particular, DeWitt Clinton had promoted the idea of a western canal as early as 1811 while serving in the New York state senate. Jefferson turned down the idea but determined New Yorkers decided they would proceed on their own. In 1820 the state of New York purchased the company’s works, closing the books on the 18th-century canal scheme. -- 1870-1900? He won preliminary legislative approval in 1816 and was named commissioner for the project. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. It was a dream, and many people scoffed, but when one man, DeWitt Clinton, became involved, the crazy dream started to become reality. Discuss the Erie Canal and how it solved problems caused by the landscape. It was built to create a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. Quarantine regulations which sought to contain towns and cities in upper New York, Vermont and along the Erie Canal met with little success. It also had connections to other canal systems in Pennsylvania. Ring in the new year with a Britannica Membership, From commercial artery to national symbol, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Erie-Canal, Ohio History Central - Miami and Erie Canal, Erie Canal - Children's Encyclopedia (Ages 8-11), Erie Canal - Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up). McNamara, Robert. From Thomas Jefferson's papers, Monticello researchers have compiled the following primary source references to the Erie Canal. On the eastern section, the lower Mohawk Valley required the construction of 27 locks over only 50 km (30 miles) in order to surmount a series of natural rapids, including those found in Cohoes and Little Falls. DeWitt Clinton had just been elected governor of New York, and his determination to build the canal became legendary. In the 1780s, Washington organized a company, the Patowmack Canal Company, that sought to build a canal following the Potomac River. The Erie Canal Western Terminus – Commercial Slip, Harbor Development and Canal District. (2020, August 27). Travel also proceeded westward for goods and products as well as passengers. Omissions? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/building-the-erie-canal-1773705. However, the Erie Canal is still used today by recreational watercraft. For webquest or practice, print a copy of this quiz at the Erie Canal webquest print page. On October 25, 1825, the entire length of the Erie Canal was complete. A dip in a city street is one of the last reminders of a canal that cut a path through Erie's downtown for several decades in the mid-1800s. Construction began in 1817 and was completed in 1825. The canal did not incorporate any natural lakes or rivers into its design, so it is entirely contained. Between 1835 and the turn of the century, this network of Canals was enlarged twice to … Lake Erie is 571 feet higher than the level of the Hudson River; locks were built to overcome that difference. Building the Erie Canal. In 1817 the Erie Canal was established under the management of a New York State Commission. Clinton, who had been involved in national politics, he had nearly beaten James Madison in the 1812 presidential election, was an energetic mayor of New York City. Clinton's boat then proceeded down the Hudson to New York City. The Erie Canal's success was part of a Canal-building boom in New York in the 1820s. Most of the engineers involved in the elaborate project had no experience at all in building canals. The Erie Canal in New York is part of the east–west, cross-state route of the New York State Canal System (formerly known as the New York State Barge Canal). A canal linking the Ohio River with Cleveland on Lake Erie was completed in 1833, and a waterway between the Chicago and Illinois rivers was built between 1836 and 1848. The Erie Canal also did not cost the taxpayers of New York a penny since it was financed by bonds, all of which totaled to $8.4 million. With a typical canal prism shape—12 metres (40 feet) wide on the top, 8.5 metres (28 feet) wide at the bottom, and 1.2 metres (4 feet) deep—the engineers patterned the Erie Canal after the Middlesex Canal in Massachusetts. There was a big line up of vessels in Waterford, waiting to lock through and head west. Robert J. McNamara is a history expert and former magazine journalist. Diggin’ the Erie Canal. The canal was built in sections, so portions of it were opened for traffic before the entire length was declared finished on October 26, 1825. (Rochester Public Library Local History Division picture file) -- Note that the boat is named "Palmyra". The canal cost about $7 million, but collecting tolls meant it paid for itself within a decade. Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. With nature presenting more daunting obstacles on both the western and eastern sections, construction began in the middle segment on July 4, 1817, with Clinton officiating the groundbreaking at Rome, New York. Eventually, railroads and highways superseded the canal. … Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content. Instructions: To take the quiz, click on the answer. But things were very different in the early 1800s. Animals typically worked in six hour shifts, which could mean anywhere from 3-20+ miles depending on several factors including the number of locks they encountered and the volume of traffic. The canal was enlarged in the mid-1800s, and it continued to be used for freight transportation for decades. 1807 December 10. One of the problems with the old wooden canal boats was their limited life span. The original 13 states were arranged along the Atlantic coast, and there was a fear that other nations, such as Britain or France, would be able to claim much of the interior of North America. Sections of the can… There were many people who thought the canal was a foolish idea, and it was derided as "Clinton's Big Ditch" or "Clinton's Folly.". Chief engineer Benjamin Wright and his corps of self-taught engineers (there were no engineering schools in the United States at that time, though the project prompted several schools to start engineering programs) were successful in overcoming the technological problems faced by the canal, which needed to move boats through more than 150 metres (500 feet) of elevation. Images of the Erie Canal in the Niskayuna/Vischer Ferry area The event was lauded as "The Marriage of the Waters.". Using horses and manpower, the canal was dug across the state. It connected Akron with the Cuyahoga River near its outlet on Lake Erie in Cleveland, and a few years later, with the Ohio River near Portsmouth. 4 Routes to the West Used by American Settlers, National Parks in Ohio: Wright Brothers, Mounds, Buffalo Soldiers, Election of 1812: DeWitt Clinton Nearly Unseated James Madison, Albert Gallatin's Report on Roads, Canals, Harbors, and Rivers, Founding and History of the New York Colony, The Wall Street War to Control the Erie Railroad, Biography of Robert Fulton, Inventor of the Steamboat, The Most Important Inventions of the Industrial Revolution, 363 miles in length, from Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo on Lake Erie. The Erie Canal’s success inaugurated a period of intensive canal construction. Having a local source of hydraulic cement greatly aided the construction process, and it reduced costs by eliminating the need to import European cement. Corrections? 1807 December 10. The canal was finished on October 26, 1825, two years ahead of schedule. Each contractor was then responsible for supplying equipment and for hiring, supervising, and paying his own workers. However I hope we can advance them with equal pace."1. As a result of the success of the canal, all of New York wanted more canals built in a similar manner. The historic project that was the famous Erie Canal--all of four feet deep--was begun in 1817. Between 1823 and 1828, several lateral Canals opened including the Champlain, the Oswego and the Cayuga-Seneca. Updates? Immigrants leaped from halted canal boats and passed through locks on foot, despite the efforts by contingents of armed militia to stop them. This canal—a waterway made for travel—changed the future of the United States of America. Beginning in the 1780s, various plans were proposed to improve navigation on the Mohawk River. Many Americans who wanted to settle on the frontier used the canal as a highway westward. John Fitch (1743-1798) was granted a patent for a steamboat on August 26, 1791, the invention of steam power made it far easier to travel along the rivers. When the Erie Canal opened in 1825, it was the marvel of its age. At the conclusion of the trip in New York City, Clinton emptied a keg of water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean, calling it the “marriage of the waters.” Altogether, the locks, the aqueducts, and the canal itself were considered an American engineering marvel, and it was a great source of pride as an example of how citizens in a republic could improve upon nature and promote progress. Taking advantage of the Mohawk River gap in the Appalachian Mountains, the Erie Canal, 363 miles (584 km) long, was the first canal in the United States to connect western waterways with the Atlantic Ocean. Which strait separates the continents of Asia and North America at their closest point? The Erie Canal was first opened in 1825. In addition, construction of the canal served as a training ground for many of the engineers who built other American canals and railroads in the ensuing decades. This grand idea might never have come to fruition but for the efforts of a remarkable character, DeWitt Clinton. The staircaselike locks were followed by a 5-km- (3-mile-) long, 9-metre- (30-foot-) deep cut blasted into the rocky plateau. President Thomas Jefferson declared the idea "little short of madness", But construction finally began on July 4, 1817. The public debt for canals in 1825 amounted to seven and a half million dollars—all of which, it must be recorded to the honor of the State and the country, had been borrowed of American capitalists—and the annual interest thereon, to three hundred seventy-six thousand dollars. Goods from the west could be taken across the Great Lakes to Buffalo, then on the canal to Albany and New York City, and conceivably even to Europe. It was completed in 1825 and was the second longest canal in the world (after the Grand Canalin China), and it greatly enhanced the development and economy of the citie… McNamara, Robert. The canal was enlarged in the mid-1800s, and it continued to be used for freight transportation for decades. The Erie Canal is a canal in New York, United States that is part of the east–west, cross-state route of the New York State Canal System (formerly known as the New York State Barge Canal). The Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, which found itself short of funds and snarled in state partisan politics, never completed its plans. Canal engineer Canvass White solved one of the construction obstacles when he discovered how to create a cement that hardened underwater. In 1830, the Ohio legislature earmarked funds for the Miami and Erie Canal's extension to Defiance and Lake Erie. He was Amazon.com's first-ever history editor and has bylines in New York, the Chicago Tribune, and other national outlets. Although the company achieved some success in making improvements to the river, it never had the financial resources to tackle the larger navigation obstacles in the river. Which two bodies of water does the Suez Canal connect? The Ohio and Erie Canal was a canal constructed during the 1820s and early 1830s in Ohio. The idea for a canal connecting the Hudson River and the Great Lakes was first proposed in the early 1800s by a miller living in a village in upstate New York. And it was soon a huge economic success. Its success propelled New York City into a major commercial centre and encouraged canal construction throughout the United States. In the late 1700s, the new American nation was faced with a problem. Test your knowledge. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. The Erie Canal was a 363-mile canal that connected the Atlantic Ocean, via the Hudson River in eastern New York, with Lake Erie. Swamps and dense forests covered the land. Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions. Canal engineer Nathan B. Roberts designed a series of 10 locks, five levels with 2 locks side-by-side, to carry boats over this barrier. ThoughtCo. Today the canal is generally used as a recreational waterway, and the State of New York is actively engaged in promoting the Erie Canal as a tourist destination. Postcards of the Erie Canal in Schenectady and Vicinity ; The Mohawk River Aqueducts ; The Rexford Aqueduct ; The Crescent Aqueduct ; Images of the Erie Canal between Schenectady and Albany . To mark the occasion, DeWitt Clinton, who was still governor of New York, rode a canal boat from Buffalo, New York, in western New York, to Albany. 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