What is a Canal? A canal is an artificial waterway for navigation.
Why Build Canals? Road A wagon could carry 1 ton for 12 miles in one day. Cost 20 cents to carry 1 ton one mile. Railroad A train could carry 500 tons for 200 miles in one day. Cost 5 cents to carry 1 ton one mile. Canal A canal boat could carry 100 tons for 30 miles in one day. Cost 5 cents to carry 1 ton one mile. Transport Options, Early 1800’s From Martland, Carl D. ”Example of the Ability of Civil Engineering Projects to Shape Cities and Channel Development:Roads, Canals, and Railroads in the Early 19th Century” MIT, Spring 2005 http://ocw.mit.edu/NR/rdonlyres/Civil-and-Environmental-Engineering/1-011Spring-2005/5B684A1B-4A5A-4419-AB9C-6347D6CD1AD4/0/p_eval04_l2_19cn.pdf
Why Build Canals? Water is one of the cheapest ways to transport goods. BUT - you need the waterway! High volume of goods so long as speed is not a great factor Boats were pulled by horses. Food can be delivered to cities Cities can become trade centers
Section I: History & BackgroundHistory & Background
The Erie Canal went from Albany, NY to Buffalo, NY in 1817-1825 First proposed in 1724. Discussed more in the late 1700s and early 1800s Thomas Jefferson said that it would be: "A splendid project - for the 20th century.“ He didn’t think the technology or tools existed to make it happen in the early 1800’s.
History & Background Erie Canal, 1817-1825 Easiest way to cross Appalachian Mountains
Indeed, while most studies of the Erie Canal focus on the story of economic progress and political intrigue, few focus on the laborers who built the Canal. The 363-mile Canal was built in eight years for $7.2 million by somewhere between 8,000 and 9,000 laborers, many of whom were Irish immigrants, and with the help of 10,000 horses and mules. The first step occurred when the crews moved through the wide Mohawk River Valley, clearing the forests of thousands of trees, chopped them up into movable sizes, uprooted the stumps, then carted away the logs, branches, and leaves.
History & Background The Erie Canal was hand-dug to connect the Hudson River with the Niagara River. The 363-mile canal had to conquer the 571-foot difference in height between the rivers.
History & Background Locks were used to allow boats to overcome the change in water levels.
Nothing as big as the Erie Canal had ever been built. In the early stages, the men dug with shovels and carted the dirt away in wheelbarrows. Later on, horses were used to cart away the dirt, crude pulleys were used to move large objects, and stump pullers were invented. The entire length of the canal was essentially a hand dug ditch that was 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide.
The Erie Canal was more than just a long man-made river. Lake Erie was 571 feet higher than the Hudson River and the land from Buffalo at Lake Erie to Albany on the Hudson River is far from being level. So the Canal builders had to use 83 locks to lift and lower boats to overcome all of the elevation changes.
The canal’s were too shallow and narrow for steamboats, sail boats, and too difficult a job for poling because of heavy loads. The method of towing flat bottomed boats was to have them pulled by horses or mules. The boats floated in the canal and the horses and mules had ropes tied to them and the boats and then they walked beside the canal on a dirt pathway.
The first builders of the Erie Canal faced gigantic engineering challenges. This was during a time when there were hardly any professional engineers in the United States.
The primary engineers were not professionally trained engineers when they began the project.
Some of the biggest obstacles they faced was trying to level all 363 miles of the Canal; building bridges for everything that crossed the canal; building aqueducts in order to cross other bodies of water; designing and operating the locks and aqueducts; and trying to find something that could close the spaces between the stones lining the canal, the locks, and aqueducts.
One by one, the designers overcame the obstacles. Dr. Andrew Barto (a local scientist in a small town along the Canal route) took some moist mortar made from limestone, mixed it with sand, packed it into a ball, and put it into a bucket of water overnight. The next morning, it was solid as a rock. Dr. Barto had a factory set up to grind and manufacture the material for less than $4.00 a barrel.
The going wage for labor was $12 a month, or fifty cents for each day on the job. The men received ample food and drink, as well as crude sleeping quarters. The work was hard and dangerous.
The Erie Canal was a huge economic success! It opened the northwest (especially Ohio) to new markets and people. It stimulated the national market economy. It linked the west with the east, and changed the most important transportation routes from north to south, to east to west.
The Erie Canal was a huge economic success! It created canal towns that offered a wide range of economic activities and welcomed new business owners. It turned New York City into the Empire State where trade was no going to become even more profitable and powerful.
History & Background The opening of the last lock on the canal was celebrated on October 26, 1825 with a grand procession. From the Library of Congress, American Memory
Your consent to our cookies if you continue to use this website.