On this day in history, October 26, 1825, Erie Canal opens, transforming American infrastructure, commerce


The Erie Canal, a major achievement in transportation infrastructure that connected the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean and ignited American economic development, was completed on this day in history, Oct. 26, 1825.

“The Erie Canal played a major part in commerce in the history of the United States,” reports the Library of Congress.

“Its creation helped to make New York City the chief port in the United States and opened the western part of the state and other western territories to increased settlement and trade.”

The canal began upon the shores of Lake Erie in Buffalo and traversed about 350 miles east, where it made a sudden southward turn around Troy and emptied into the Hudson River in downtown Albany. 

It featured 18 aqueducts, 83 locks and a 570-foot change in elevation.

Construction of the canal began in 1817. Its opening eight years later was celebrated with a “wedding of the waters” officiated by New York Gov. DeWitt Clinton, the canal’s leading champion. 

Gov. Clinton made a 10-day journey down the canal from Buffalo to the Hudson River and then to New York City aboard the packet boat Seneca Chief. 

He ceremonially poured two casks of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic, marking the union of the two bodies for the first time.

Yet appreciation of the canal’s profound role in transforming the heartland, New York City and the American economy has grown in recent years.

The Erie Canal “helped New York become the ‘Empire State’ — the leader in population, industry and economic strength.”

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor was established by Congress in 2000, while the project’s impact on the nation is still being felt today.

The Erie Canal “was the longest artificial waterway and the greatest public works project in North America,” says the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. 

“Equally important, the Erie Canal became a central element forging our national identity. Built with a combination of vision, determination, ingenuity and hard work, the Erie Canal solidified these central elements of our American character.”

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