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The Engineering of the Erie Canal

The Erie Canal started construction in 1817 at Rome, New York, and had its grand opening in 1825 when it. The canal was four feet deep, 40 feet wide, and 363 miles long, and it cost more than $7 million to build (more than $120 million in today’s dollars). As time went on, the amount of traffic and the sizes of the boats being used grew, and the canal had to be enlarged a few times to keep pace. The channel ended up reaching up to 23 feet deep in some areas and up to 200 feet wide. The engineering of the Erie Canal was a pioneering achievement and led to the construction of similar waterways in other parts of the state. All of those put together make up what is now known as the New York State Canal System.

The Idea for the Canal

It all started with the notion to offer a quicker and safer way to move goods by building a canal to connect the Hudson River to Lake Erie. While a passage like this made sense to some, not everyone was on board with the idea. In fact, Thomas Jefferson felt that the idea was “madness.” It took a couple of different proposals and a persistent man to get this idea to stick. Dewitt Clinton, the governor of New York at the time, paved the way by raising the millions of dollars needed to fund this massive project. Once the money was in hand, construction began on the Erie Canal in 1817.

Building the Canal

The construction of the Erie Canal was an engineering task the scale of which had previously been unheard of in America. The chief workers on the canal had little to no training coming into it, and the job would put everyone to the test, as the path they needed would be going through fields, swamp areas, forests, and even some craggy mountain cliffs. The engineers in charge came up with the idea to start the canal in the middle: This area was the easier one to deal with, and getting this part constructed helped the working crew feel a sense of achievement as they began the more difficult sections. Construction ended in 1825, when the whole canal opened for passage.

The Impact of the Canal

After the canal opened, it greatly improved the speed and ease of travel from the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean and back. Ultimately, New York’s population boomed as people flocked to this waterway and ended up settling in cities near it. Trade increased as westerners found access to more lucrative markets they didn’t have before. Immigrants also settled here, seeking opportunity and bringing their customs, languages, and religions.