Real growth in the movement of people and goods west began with canals.
Construction of the Erie Canal began in 1817 and was completed in 1825. The canal spanned 350 miles between the great lakes and the Hudson River in New York; and was an immediate success. Its success led to the great canal age. By bringing the great lakes within reach of a metropolitan market, the Erie Canal opened up the unsettled northern regions of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
New York City became the principal gateway to the West and financial center for the nation. The Erie Canal was also in part responsible for the creation of strong bonds between the new western territories and the northern states. The Canal enabled farmers to send their goods to New England. The Erie Canal transformed America.
Other states followed New York in constructing canals. Ohio built a canal in 1834 to link the Great Lakes with the Mississippi Valley. As a result, Cleveland rose from a frontier village to a Great Lakes port by 1850. Cincinnati could now send food products down the Ohio and Mississippi by flatboat and steamboat and ship flour by canal boat to New York.
The state of Pennsylvania put through a great portage canal system to Pittsburgh. It used a series of inclined planes and stationary steam engines to transport canal boats up and over the Alleghenies on rails. At its peak, Pennsylvania had almost a thousand miles of canals.
By the 1830s, the country had a complete water route from New York City to New Orleans. Yet, within twenty years a new mode of transportation, the railroad, would render most of them unprofitable.
Source: The Canal Era
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