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This page describes the history and impact of the Erie Canal on Westward Expansion.

Erie Canal

The Erie Canal

Transportation Between the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes

During the early 1800's, the new United States of America began to develop plans to build a waterway to transport goods from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes region through the imposing Appalachian Mountains. Prior to construction of the Erie Canal, the transportation of goods to the western states was cumbersome and very expensive.

New York to Pay for Construction of the Erie Canal

In 1816, a plan was formulated to make the Erie Canal. The canal would link the major port of New York City to the Hudson River near Troy, New York. From Troy, the canal would then link the Hudson River to western cities in New York such as Rome, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. From Buffalo, on Lake Erie, goods could be transported to the canal from the western Great Lakes. Hence, goods could be shipped from anywhere in the Great Lakes to major urban centers such as New York City. Although the plan was rejected by president James Monroe, the New York State Legislature approved the plan and planned to pay for the canal by charging tolls for those who used it. Governor DeWitt Clinton was a major proponent of the plan.

Seven Years in the Making

The canal took over seven years to complete. Laborers had to literally dig the massive canal with simple shovels through mountainous areas. Farmers who lived along the canal often contracted workers to build portions of the canal through their land. Many foreign immigrants were paid well to help build the canal. The 363 mile-long, 40 foot wide Erie Canal was completed on October 25, 1825.

The Erie Canal Prompted the Growth of Cities near the Great Lakes

The Erie Canal revolutionized life for many in America. Not only did its construction result in drastic differences in shipping costs, but it prompted huge population growths in the Great Lakes region. People began to move closer to large cities because goods could easily be transported via the Erie Canal to urban areas, and goods could also be shipped west from the cities. The $7,000,000 cost of the canal was quickly covered by tolls. Tolls were eliminated soon after the cost of the canal was reclaimed.

The Story of a Growing Nation

Original Colonies
Colonial Territory (Northwest Territory)
Land Ordinances of 1784 and 1785
The Louisiana Purchase
The Establishment of the 49th Parallel
The Monroe Doctrine
The Adams-Onis Treaty and the Annexation of Florida
The Building of the Erie Canal
The Battle of the Alamo
Oregon Territory
Manifest Destiny
California Gold Rush
Mexican-American War
The Alaska Purchase
The Annexation of Hawaii
The Gadsden Purchase


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