This Day in History
Erie Canal Opens

First Passage from Lake Erie to New York City
October 26, 1825

At the beginning of the century, Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury, Gallatin, had proposed an elaborate network of roads and canals to knit together north and south, the Atlantic coast and the interior. The successful voyage of Robert Fulton’s Clermont on the Hudson showed what could be accomplished by a network of rivers, lakes, and canals. De Witt Clinton, senator and governor of New York, early caught a vision of linking the Atlantic with the Great Lakes by a canal from the Hudson to Lake Erie; by 1817 he had persuaded the State of New York to undertake the stupendous task. Construction began on July 4, 1817; the canal reached Lake Erie at Buffalo in October of 1825. Three hundred sixty-five miles in length, it was, probably, the greatest engineering feat since the building of the Pyramids. Its significance was far-reaching: it assured New York the position of the greatest entrepot for the commerce of the West; it opened up the Old Northwest to a flood of emigration from New England and New York, and, thus, changed the character and culture of that area; and, by linking the Northwest economically with the Atlantic seaboard, it succeeded in diverting trade from the Ohio-Mississippi system, which fed into the south, to the north - a shift which assured, in the end, the support of that great area to the Union in the crisis of 1860.

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.