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The Erie Canal

John Quincy Adams

The Erie Canal: John Quincy Adams was the 6th American President who served in office from March 4, 1825 to March 4, 1829. One of the important events during his presidency was the construction of the Erie Canal.

Definition and Summary of the The Erie Canal
Summary and definition:
The Erie Canal was the nation's first Important transportation system connecting the Atlantic Ocean, via the Hudson River in Albany, eastern New York, with Lake Erie. The Erie Canal stretched for 363 miles providing the first waterway connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.

Construction began on ‎July 4, 1817, it was first used on ‎May 17, 1821 and finally completed on ‎October 26, 1825.

Definition of a Canal
Definition:
A canal is an artificial waterway that is constructed to allow the passage of boats inland carrying produce and passengers.

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. 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. By the early 1800's Steamboats had revolutionized river travel and river trade. Other modes of transportation followed refer to the Construction of the Cumberland Road, the Horse Car, the Railroads in the 1800s and the History of the Turnpikes (Toll Roads)

John Fitch launched a steamboat called the 'Clermont' on August 17, 1807 which carried passengers from New York City 150 miles to Albany. People began to consider the advantages of connecting one steamboat route on the Hudson River with other steamboat routes on the Great Lakes via a canal. Although a canal could not take a steamboat it would make traveling and transporting goods across the Appalachian Mountains much easier, cheaper and and quicker. Plans for the construction were proposed in 1807.  Construction eventually started  in 1817 and this great feat of engineering was opened on October 26, 1825.

The Erie Canal for kids - De Witt Clinton
De Witt Clinton (1769 – 1828) was a U.S. Senator and the Mayor of New York and also its sixth governor. In 1810 De Witt Clinton
became a member of the Erie Canal Commission and became the driving force during the construction of the Erie Canal. It was the persistence of De Witt Clinton that persuaded the New York State legislature to appropriate $7,000,000 for the construction of the Erie Canal. De Witt Clinton believed that the construction and project would benefit New York City by bringing to it the produce of the lands in the Northwest and of western New York to the city. He also believed it would benefit the farmers of those regions by bringing their produce to more quickly, safely and efficiently - the rates of freight would be considerably lower by canal than they were by road. Unfortunately not everyone shared the views of De Witt Clinton and the Erie Canal was given the nickname of "DeWitt's Ditch" or "Clinton's big ditch". The cynics were proved totally wrong...

The Erie Canal for kids - The New York State Canal System
De Witt Clinton was right in his beliefs and, within a  year of opening the Erie Canal, the cost of carrying a ton of grain from Lake Erie to the Hudson River fell from $100 to just $15. Other canals were built and became and enormous source of state revenue. The New York State Canal System consisting of the Erie, Champlain, and Oswego Canals paid for themselves in the first 10 years of operation. The system earned over $120,000,000 in tolls between 1826 and 1883. New York City soon became the center of trade and finance in the United States and the Erie waterway was perceived as an engineering marvel and some even called it the "Eighth Wonder of the World".

Importance and Significance of the Erie Canal
The importance and significance of the Erie Canal was:

  • Farmers and industrialists had a relatively cheap and fast means of transporting their products to market

  • It inspired a canal-building boom, other canals were built, improving transportation across the U.S.

  • Thousands of settlers utilized the Erie Canal to move west

  • New cities and ports emerged along the route of the Erie waterway

  • It knit together the Atlantic Seaboard with the area west of the Appalachian Mountains

  • It increased foreign trade by providing the means for transporting agricultural products and manufactured goods between the American interior, the eastern seaboard and Europe

  • The construction was a feat of U.S. engineering and more than twice the length of any canal in Europe - a source of great national pride to the United States

  • It helped New York become the “Empire State” and the leader in population, industry, economic strength and political influence. For additional facts refer to the History of Urbanization in America

Erie Canal History for kids: The General Survey Act
The 1824 General Survey Act was a law passed by the United States Congress in April 1824 that was extremely important to the development of additional canals in America. The General Survey Act authorized the president to have surveys made of important transportation routes.  The law specified that surveys were made for routes requiring roads and canals "of national importance, in a commercial or military point of view, or necessary for the transportation of public mail." The responsibility for the surveys was assigned to the Corps of Engineers.

Facts about the Erie Canal
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on The Erie Canal.

Where is the Erie Canal located? The above map shows its location from the Atlantic via the Hudson River in Albany New York all the way east to Buffalo, Lake Erie.

How long is the Erie Canal? It is 363 miles (584 km) long

When was the Erie Canal built? It was built between 1817 and 1825

Construction began at Rome, New York on July 4, 1817

The first 15 miles (24 km) stretching from Rome to Utica took two years to complete - delays were encountered due to having to clear so many trees.

It had a total of 86 locks to make up the 571-foot difference in elevation between the Hudson River and Lake Erie

The channel was a minimum of 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide at the surface

The passenger boats were called "packets" or "packet boats" and were usually horse-drawn

The working boats transporting produce were called "line boats" or "freighters" and were drawn by either horses or mules

The first boat to travel the full length of the waterway was called the Seneca Chief. It carried Governor DeWitt Clinton in the fall 1825 from Buffalo to New York Harbor for the “Wedding of the Waters” ceremony

By 1850, 25% of all the grain grown in the United States traveled to market via the waterway

The children's book 'Marco Paul’s Travels on the Erie Canal' was published in 1852

The name of the Principal engineer of the waterway was Benjamin Wright (1770-1852). In 1969 Benjamin Wright was declared the "Father of American Civil Engineering" by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Thousands of unskilled laborers built the waterway over difficult terrain, with the aid of wheelbarrows, hand tools, horses, and mules

The middle section, Utica to Salina, was completed in 1820

The largest lock was 94.5 m long, 13.2 m wide, and 3.6 m deep

The names of other engineers who worked on the project were Amos Eaton and Canvass White

The waterway was the first transportation system of the United States that did not require portage

In 1918 the western half of the waterway was enlarged to become the New York State Barge Canal

The success of the waterway venture led to a boom in canal-building. The Champlain Canal was opened in 1823 and was 66 miles long. The Oswego Canal was 38 miles long and the Cayuga-Seneca was 27 miles long, both were opened in 1828.

US American History
1801-1828: Evolution Era

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