The Erie Canal. Construction and contributions

Term Paper, 2012

13 Pages, Grade: A



At the beginning of 19th century (1800s) Jesse Hawley a miller who was imprisoned in Geneva town, in New York envisaged the notion of building a canal connecting the west and the east regions of New York, this canal was to start from lake erie going and touching Hudson river. From 1807 to 1808 Hawley wrote 14 essays enumerating the benefits of the canal to the state. However, when president heard about the idea he termed the idea as “a little short of madness”. However, this idea was appealing to DeWitt Clinton who was then mayor of New York, and he completely supported the idea.  During that era, transportation of people and goods was very difficult as there wasn’t any simple to transport them. Land transport was very laborious and costly. New York was merely covered with wilderness, mountains, waterfalls, swamps and great inland lake. This research paper will clearly review the Erie Canal on the basis of three fundamental issues, its construction, Clinton DeWitt contributions, and the general outcomes of its construction. After the review a brief conclusion will be provided to sum up the paper.

The construction of the Erie Canal

The Erie Canal construction work started on 4th of July 1817, its timing was to begin on Independence Day was intentional because New York was seen as having emerged victorious against the political battle of building the canal.[1] This is not to mean that initial works started on July 4th, no, for many years before, a lot of engineers were involved in studying how the canal was to built, its route, technology and amounts involved.

Before work started on Erie Canal, the New York legislature as earlier as 1808 had had a debate on other routes. The most viable routes were Ontario and the interior route. However Erie route was finally selected. In order to tackle the 625 foot drop, a new method of using locks was opted instead of the famous inclined plane method.[2]

The construction works started at a mid section near Rome, New York, this point was linking Seneca with Mohawk Rivers using a minor Champlain canal. The reason for starting to construct that canal at such a midway point was that, after completing it, the canal could be used by the state and be used even if the rest is not completed. However, supporters recognized that it would be a success instantly and it’s proved value would offer the required impetus to rest of the project.

A sufficient number of laborers and available technologies which made digging as well as cutting and clearing trees and bushes faster ensured that the midway section of the Erie Canal began operational in 1820.[3]

Following the opening of the midsection of thee canal, attention moved to the western section of the canal. As at 1820, the Erie Canal had gained a lot of popularity that no individual could go against it politically. The construction works going on provided a lot of people with jobs with many people emigrating to come to work on the canal. As at 1821, the canal had a workforce of over nine thousand men, and approximately $26,241 being spent on each mile built. The emigrants almost doubled the present populations of people alongside the canal towns. Success of the first midway section fueled the construction progress and the speed of construction increased.

In 1823, the New York state undertook to carry some works, resulting to what SHAW calls possibly the first public project in the United States. Two years prior it completing the western section of the canal, work started on the eastern section of the canal. The engineers started running up and down and work intensified. As that year ended, the Erie Canal had connected Brockport (found on west ward side of Rochester) to Albany. This saw the waterway into Hudson beginning to be used a lot, Hill and Wang (p, 79) explains that “each completed link in the erie canal made the heartbeats of all new Yorkers to beat faster”.[4]

The canal moved a cross New York and in October 1825 after eight years of hard work it was completed. Upon its completion there was celebration allover the state as Seneca Chief departed from the Buffalo coast on 26th of October and moved down wards the canal towards New York harbor, here Governor DeWitt Clinton presided what was termed as the “wedding of the water”.[5]

The canal was built with unskilled men who did not have modern day equipments or expert engineer. However, the people who planed and engineered the Erie Canal were very bright and well skilled in surveying. The studied the literature on previous works of celebrated English and French canal constructors like James Brindley and Paul Riquet. The French canal built in 1600s served as model for building any other canal even the Erie Canal.

The Erie Canal was wholly constructed by the sweat of men and their animals with exemption of only some spots where the workers used black powder to blast away rock formations. But most the work, men used slip scrapers (then highly advanced) to pull giant treed and move rocks as the Erie Canal sneaked a long.

Table 1: showing the pay rates for workers

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Politics and celebration aside, the moment the Erie Canal linked the Hudson Rivers to Lake Erie; it became apparent that it was a success. Before it was completed, more than 2000 boats , over 9000 horses and more than 8000 men were paid to construct the canal, giving the canal a value of $7,143,780 which appeared unreasonable. But, as its revenues from the toll collection rose from $300,000 in 1824 to double at $600,000 in 1825, what was termed as ‘Clinton’s Big Ditch’ was absolute, its total impact on New York and the united states yet not known but starting to be felt.[6]

DeWitt Clinton's contributions

Maybe the best thing that happened in the DeWitt’s life was the naming by is political adversaries of the demeaning intentional title of “Clinton’s Ditch” to imply the Erie Canal before the canal was completed. The achievement of the Erie Canal as well called “Clinton’s Folly” brought him influence and authority, a number of occasions reviving a meticulously lifeless political career of DeWitt.


[1] Hanyan, C and Mary L (1996): DeWitt Clinton and the Rise of the People's Men: McGill-Queens University Press

[2] Hanyan, C and Mary L (1996): DeWitt Clinton and the Rise of the People's Men: McGill-Queens University Press

[3] Cornog, E (1998): The Birth of Empire: - Dewitt Clinton and the American Experience; 1769-1828: Oxford University Press

[4] Hill and Wang (1996): The Artificial River: - The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862, by Carol Sheriff, New York

[5] Bernstein L (2005): Wedding of the Waters: -The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation; New York; W.W. Norton

[6] Bernstein L (2005): Wedding of the Waters: -The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation; New York; W.W. Norton

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The Erie Canal. Construction and contributions
The University of Chicago
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
366 KB
erie, canal, construction
Quote paper
Silva Tony (Author), 2012, The Erie Canal. Construction and contributions, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Erie Canal. Construction and contributions

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free