An Overview of the Canal
For centuries many people felt that there should be a better way for goods and natural resources to travel west from the New York ports. As early as 1699, a French engineer suggested a canal between Lakes Erie and Ontario. One man had a vision of a canal that would pass from Buffalo on the Eastern Shore of Lake Erie to Albany on the upper Hudson River, a distance of almost 400 miles. This man was De Witt Clinton, the governor of New York at the time
While everyone would agree that a canal of this magnitude would drastically help increase the amount of trade in New York, no one thought that a canal of that size could possibly be built. In 1809 President Jefferson said "It is a splendid project and may be executed a century hence… but is a little short of madness to think of it at this day." De Witt supported a roue that was mapped out by Geneva's Jesse Hawley even before he became Governor of New York. When he did take office he convinced state legislature to finance the canal and construction began on July 4th, 1817.
The canal that they dug was about 363 miles long, 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep. Its waters were carried across rivers by 18 aqueducts; 83 locks raised and lowered boats a total of 568 feet from end to end. It opened on October 26, 1825.
The effect of the canal was immediate and remarkable. When it was completed settlers poured west. Freight rates were $10 per ton on the canal, compared to $100 per ton by roads. Trade was booming. In 1829, there were 3,640 bushels of wheat transported down the canal form Buffalo. By 1837 this figure had increased to 500,000 bushels; four years later it reached on million. In 9 years, canal tolls more than recouped the entire cost of construction. New York City went from the nations fifth largest seaport prior to the construction of the canal, to the nations largest just 15 years after the canal opened.
This was truly a revolutionary development for the country as a whole. They began digging the canal with just shovels and picks. Before the building of the canal, the United States had no engineering school. The Erie Canal became the first place where men in the United States could learn engineering techniques. The canal would spur on the role of engineering in this country.