Saturday, January 19

We Were There at the Opening of the Erie Canal

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In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the industrial revolution led to a need for speedier ways to get goods to market.  One proposed solution was the canal.  The Erie Canal, in particular, linked the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.  It was proposed in 1908, and construction was completed in 1825.  At the time, it was considered the Eighth Wonder of the World!

New York Governor DeWitt Clinton proposed the idea of the canal, which many people considered unwise – it was even called “Clinton’s Folly.”  At a distance of 363 miles, and with 34 locks (to compensate for elevation changes), the canal took a long time, and several millions of dollars, to build.  Nearly twenty years later, Clinton was one of the first to board a packet boat and journey down the canal! 

The Erie Canal provided several jobs and economic growth to the areas around its ports all the way until the 1980s, at which point it became more of a tourist attraction.  The canal was an engineering feat, and required the knowledge of construction workers, stonemasons, engineers, and skilled manual laborers.  Many problems arose during the construction, but they were quickly solved by the crew.

Packet boats were used to transport goods at a quicker and cheaper rate than previously available.  Mules (such as ‘Sal,’ from the song) helped to tote the loads.  Canal families became a ‘thing,’ as families lived on the boats and transported goods for a living.  Eventually, improvements were needed and new sections of the canal were created.  You can still see parts of the original canal today!
Profile of the Erie Canal

Make / Do 
Watch / Listen
Define / Identify

  • canal
  • lock
  • DeWitt Clinton
  • Benjamin Wright
  • mule driver
  • toll
  • barge
  • Westward Expansion
  • Wedding of the Waters
  • Irish Immigrants
  • aqueduct
  • Clinton's Ditch
  • towpath
  • civil engineer
  • Lake Erie
  • Albany
  • hoggee
  • To what degree did geography influence the construction/placement of the Erie Canal? 
  • If you were responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal, what would you have done differently and why?
  • Using this information, what conclusion can be drawn about the effect that the Erie Canal had on America’s economy and population distribution?

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