Scribe: Beth Brownell Editor: Steve Caine
Howie Eskin presented a history of the Erie Canal on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of it’s beginning. Merchants needed a way to efficiently move goods to the west in a cost effective manner. NYC became a large seaport due to the ability to move goods. Boston and Philadelphia had no rivers west. New Orleans and the Mississippi River were the closest rival. The Canal initiative started in 1817, only 25 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. At the time there were no engineers, and surveyors performed the bulk of the planning and engineering. RPI became established as a result of the problems faced in designing and building the canal.
Local farmers and immigrants did the bulk of the work, and invented equipment to get the work done. Techniques were borrowed from the English canal system to create rock-lined canals. The canals were east of Rome as the river was rocky, uneven and had many rapids. West of Rome, boats could proceed in the river. Waterproof cement was invented to keep the water from leaking out of the canals. Early explosives were used as well. The inventor gave the patent to NYS expecting to be paid and he never was.
Work was done with manual labor, horses, mules, wagons and wheelbarrows. After eight years of construction the canal was completed. It is the most successful and influential public work project in the US. Before the canal it took two weeks to move goods from Schenectady to Buffalo. On the canal, it took five days. In 1959 the St Lawrence Seaway was opened, giving direct access to the Great Lakes and that resulted in the decline of the canal. It is now used for pleasure boats and to move things too large to be transported by road.
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