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US History

Erie Canal

History >> US History before 1900

The Erie Canal was one of the most important transportation routes in the early history of the United States. It played a key role in both the Industrial Revolution and the Westward Expansion of the country.

Erie Canal barges in Rochester, New York
Barges on the Erie Canal
by the Detroit Publishing Company
How long is it?

The original Erie Canal ran about 363 miles from the city of Albany, New York (on the Hudson River) to the city of Buffalo, New York (on Lake Erie). In 1918, it was expanded and became part of the 525 mile long New York State Barge Canal.

When was it built?

Construction began on the Erie Canal on July 4, 1817 in Rome, New York. It was completed eight years later on October 26, 1825 at a cost of around $7 million.

Getting the Canal Built

Building such a long canal was a huge undertaking in the early 1800s. While some people thought the canal was a good idea, other people were against it. They thought it would cost too much money to build and wouldn't be worth it. For many years, DeWitt Clinton, the mayor of New York, fought to get the canal built. When the canal was finally approved, many people nicknamed it "Clinton's Ditch."

At first, building the canal was slow. It took a long time to clear a path through the forests of New York and there weren't enough workers available. However, as new immigrants arrived from Ireland to work on the canal and workers learned how to clear a path more quickly, the construction sped up. When the canal was completed in 1825, it was one of the great engineering feats of the time.

Old map showing the route of the Erie Canal
Map of the Erie Canal Route
Why was it important?

The canal formed an inexpensive way to transport goods and people between the Midwest of the United States and East Coast. It shortened the travel time for immigrants moving to the Midwest. It also increased commerce in New York and helped to make New York City the center of commerce in the United States. It enabled raw materials to be shipped from the center of the country to the factories in the Northeast and also allowed manufactured goods to be shipped to the growing Midwest.

The Erie Canal Today

By the late-1800s canals were overtaken by railroads as the most important form of transportation. However, the Erie Canal is still used today by recreational watercraft. It has been enlarged several times to accommodate larger boats and became part of the New York State Canal System in 1918.

Interesting Facts about the Erie Canal
Activities

More on the Industrial Revolution:

Overview
Timeline
How it Began in the United States
Glossary

People
Alexander Graham Bell
Andrew Carnegie
Thomas Edison
Henry Ford
Robert Fulton
John D. Rockefeller
Eli Whitney
Technology
Inventions and Technology
Steam Engine
Factory System
Transportation
Erie Canal

Culture
Labor Unions
Working Conditions
Child Labor
Breaker Boys, Matchgirls, and Newsies
Women During the Industrial Revolution


Works Cited

Works Cited

History >> US History before 1900





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