​​The Canal Age

General Overview
  • 1790 - 1820s: Americans relied mostly on roads for transportation.
  • For industrialization purposes, America needed faster, more expensive ways to travel over longer distances
  • 1820’s and 1830’s: America begins looking for new ways of transportation
  • Flatbarges were becoming obsolete because they could not go upstream.
  • America needed a new system in order to create a new market
  • They needed more advanced technology and more investments in order to progress
  • Canals benefitted both the East and the Midwest.
External Links: The Canal Age

  • As steamboats improved in size and number, rivers became more important.
  • Carried northwestern crops (corn and wheat) and southwestern crops (cotton and tobacco) to New Orleans.
  • Took a fraction of the time that barges took.
  • Beginning in New Orleans, the crops would travel to the east
  • As more and more passengers traveled, companies built nicer vessels to compete for trade.
  • However, it was less to transpost their goods by land than by sea.
  • Northeastern merchants could sell larger quantities of their manufactured goods if they could transport their merchandise more directly.
  • New highways across mountains provided partial solutions to the problem.
  • But, the cost of taking goods on land was too high for anything accept compact goods.
  • Thoughts began to turn to other canals.
External Links: History of Steamboats
Economic Advantages
  • Southern Economic Issues
  • In the 1820's, booming interest in expanding water routes to the West was generated.
  • Private enterprise could not afford canal building, so the job of digging them fell on the states.
  • Congress approved a bill to provide funding for the canal, however President Monroe found this bill to be unconstitutional and vetoed it
  • New York legislature approved state funding in 1816, with tolls to payback the state treasury upon completion
  • New York was first to begin, and started with diggin between the Hudson River and Lake Erie.
  • Although there were many ridges and forests in the way, the digging of this canal began on July 4, 1817
  • The Erie Canal cost $7 million dollars to build but reduced shipping costs
  • Traffic was so heavy that within 7 years the tolls had repaid the cost of the construction
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The Erie Canal
  • The Erie Canal was the largest construction project that the United States had ever undertaken up to that point
  • The Erie Canal connects Lake Erie in the west to the Hudson River in the east
  • The first proposal of the Canal came in 1768
  • On July 4, 1817, Governor Dewitt Clinton broke ground to begin the construction of the canal in Rome, New York
  • Hundreds of cuts and fills were required to enable the canal to pass through hills and over valleys
  • Completed on October 26, 1825, the Erie Canal was considered a modern marvel
  • Gave New York direct access to Chicago and other western markets
  • Forced competition between New Orleans and New York as a destination for agricultural goods (wheat) and as a source for manufactured goods to be sold
  • It consisted of 18 aqueducts (to carry it across streams), 88 locks of heavy masonry with great wooden gates (permit ascents and descents), and was 363 miles long (from Hudson River to Lake Erie)
  • It was 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide with towpaths along the banks
  • It could accomodate boats carrying up to 30 tons
  • However, the Erie Canal was too small; therefore, from 1836 to 1862, it was enlarged
external image eriecanal1829.jpgExternal Link: The Erie Canal

Expansion of Canals
  • Inspiration of Erie Canal began expansion
  • Settlement in the Northwest increased due to easier migration methods
  • States of Ohio and Indiana provided water connections between Lake Erie and the Ohio River
External Links: Timeline of Canals 1820-1829

Successes and Failuresexternal image erie262.jpg

  • Canals connected all the way to New York.
  • Boston couldn not connect to the West with canals because of the Berkshire Mountians.
  • Philadelphia and Baltimore could not build canals because of the Allegheny Mountains
  • Maryland began constructing a canal, but was only able to connect Washington D.C. to Cumberland.
  • Richmond and Charleston also began to construct canals, but were unsuccessful as well.
  • Overall, canals were not a source of transportation to the West.
  • This led to new ideas which began the era of the railroad.