Erie Canal: Construction & Completion

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson is going to go over the construction and completion of the Erie Canal. You'll also learn how it has changed after its original completion in the 19th century.

Erie Canal

The Erie Canal is a manmade waterway that joins the Great Lakes with the Hudson River and, by extension, the Atlantic Ocean. It served as an important economic waterway and migration route for many people. In fact, after it was opened, the cost of shipping a ton of wheat from Ohio to New York City dropped by 90%!

Let's go over the construction and completion of this canal.

Construction & Completion of the Original Canal

The construction of what was to become the Erie Canal was first proposed in the first decade of the 19th century. That being said, similar canals were proposed decades earlier.

Actual construction of the Erie Canal began on July 4, 1817, in Rome, New York. The canal was originally 40 feet wide, 4 feet deep and could float boats loaded with 30 tons of freight. On one side of the canal was a 10-foot wide towpath. Here, horses and mules would be tied up to the boats they would pull through the canal.

While the canal was built with the help of oxen who plowed the ground for it, the reality is that a large chunk of the work was completed by Irishmen working with primitive tools, a spectacular achievement given their hardships. They were paid $10 a month for their work, which is the equivalent of roughly a few hundred dollars a month today.

The Erie Canal during the mid 19th century.
The Erie Canal during the mid 19th century.

All in all, the original canal was constructed with 83 locks and 18 aqueducts that helped move it through rivers and ravines as it rose over 500 feet from the Hudson River to Lake Erie over the course of several hundred miles.

This original Erie Canal was completed on October 26, 1825.

Additional Construction

Of course, as with any massive engineering project maintained over a long period of time, the Erie Canal had to be upgraded as times changed. As time went on, traffic increased and the need to transport more freight surged as well. So by 1862, the Erie Canal had been enlarged to be 70 feet wide and 7 feet deep. It could now support boats loaded with about 100 tons of freight.

A map of the Erie canal from around the mid 19th century.
A map of the Erie canal from around the mid 19th century.

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