America 18/70

The Erie Canal, New York State

Pre-holiday research had alerted us to the existence of the Erie Canal. But what we did not realise was its significance to the development of America! First some hard data:

  • North America’s most successful and influential public works project.
  • Built between 1817 and 1825, it was the first all water link between the Atlantic Seaboard and Great Lakes.
  • Canal packet boat passengers traveled from Albany to Buffalo in 5 days, rather than 14 by stagecoach.
  • An engineering marvel at a time when America had no qualified engineers.

But they sure knew how to party when it was completed!

On October 26 1825, Governor Clinton and his party boarded the packet boat Seneca Chief , with two wooden barrels of Lake Erie water, to begin the journey from Buffalo to New York City. Eight days later, Clinton ceremoniously emptied the water into the Atlantic Ocean to marry the waters as a symbol of the importance of this canal.

Erie Canal
Lake Erie meets the Atlantic

And the actual bucket stands in the New York State Museum in Albany!

Erie Canal

Now for the ‘soft’ stuff. The Erie Canal became the route to opportunity and prosperity in the American interior. New York City became the nation’s busiest port and most populous city and immigrants knew they could  find work in the many new cities sprouting along the canal.

But the Erie Canal carried more than goods and people.The general prosperity and the cosmopolitan nature of the Canal corridor created a climate where social innovation could flourish.  It was a conduit for ideas. Several of the 19th century’s most influential social reform movements started or flourished along the canal system. 

Here is just one!