Economics and Business

Navigation Acts

Why was the completion of the Erie Canal important to U.S. development?

Completed in 1825, the Erie Canal joined the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, linking the East with the West and for the first time allowing freight and settlers to easily move back and forth between the regions. Begun on July 4, 1817, the canal was sponsored by Governor DeWitt Clinton (1769–1828) of New York, who planned and eventually carried out the huge building project. The waterway was funded by the state of New York, which paid just over $7 million to complete it. The original canal was 363 miles long, 40 feet wide at the surface, and 4 feet deep. It had 83 locks, which raised vessels 562 feet between the Hudson River and Lake Erie. (A lock is a section of a canal that can be closed to control the water level and is then used to either raise or lower a vessel to another body of water.) Beginning at Albany, New York, on the Hudson River (which flows into the Atlantic Ocean at New York City), the canal extends west as far as Buffalo, New York, on Lake Erie (one of the five Great Lakes).

The waterway, which was inaugurated by the run of the barge Seneca Chief on October 26, 1825, could transport passengers aboard boats and move cargo aboard barges, which were pulled by teams of horses and mules on the ground. In spite of the critics, who dubbed the ambitious project “Clinton’s Wonder” and “Clinton’s Ditch,” the canal’s positive impact on the American economy was felt within the first decade of its operation. The new transportation route reduced freight rates both eastward and westward, made Buffalo a major port in the region and New York City a major international port, was a catalyst for population growth in upstate New York and throughout the Old Northwest (the present-day states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota), and prompted other states (Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois) to build canals, further opening up the country’s interior to development and commerce. Since crops could be shipped from these lush farmlands and as more farms came into existence, the Erie Canal helped supply the newly arrived immigrants in the eastern cities with food; in turn, they shipped manufactured goods west to the farming communities. The canal was enlarged several times between 1835 and 1862 to increase its capacity. In 1903 New York voted to link the canal with three shorter waterways in the state to form the New York State Barge Canal, which opened in 1918.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy History Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App