Shannon Wong
July 13, 1997

Period 2 Mini-Project: Magazine Review
National Geographic: The Erie Canal; Living Link to our Past
November 1990
Joel L. Swerdlow

Thomas Jefferson stated that the Erie Canal would be impossible. “It would have to cover more than 350 miles and raise and lower boats nearly 600 feet.”(p.1) He thought that the concept of a canal connecting two things was silly. The proposal was to build a canal that connected New York with states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana. The construction of the Erie Canal took place from 1817 to 1825. The completion of the canal reduced shipping prices from $100 to $10 per ton.
“Today, the Erie Canal is a living link to our past.” Two types of barges has defined the two stages of the canal. The mule is the first stage. Mules were used as opposed to horses because they needed less rest, ate rougher food, and were smarter. These mules were used to carry barges. Motorized barge haulers represent the second stage of the canal. These haulers were developed in the 1900s.
The Erie Canal begins at the joining of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. This is where Joel begins his journey. The land of Hiawatha passes by along the journey. Hiawatha united warring tribes into the Iriquois Confederacy of 1600. Benjamin Franklin stated that, “If ignorant savages can devise a political union, English colonists can do the same.” (p.5) The Iriquois joined forces with England, but broke up. When De Witt Clinton began to build the canal, the Iroquois were on reservations.
Joel passes abandoned factories. He is reminded of the time back then. There was an abundance of water power, so America’s Industrial Revolution took place in Troy. The creation of shirts with removable shirt collars took place in Troy, as well as half of America’s horseshoes. At the start of the 20th century, factories hired over a thousand workers each.
The creation of the canal brought New York’s port from fourth to first in the U.S. Boats drawn by mules could sail for 363 miles through forest and farmland. Freight costs were cut by 90% and time was cut in half. In the 1950’s, competition built up due to the introduction of trucks, railroads, and petroleum pipelines. Funding was minimized and the canal began to deteriorate. (p.7)
The creation of the New York State Education and Research Network (NyserNet) in 1986 was compared to the Erie Canal. It created computer “highways” and made information easier and quicker to find.
Deer still wander near the canal. Trees and flowers still grow, but swimming in the canal is rare. It was used as a sewer and a dump for some years now. Now, the biggest danger is drinking and driving on the canal. In the 19th century, canal boats were fast. It would take a month to travel the distance of the canal on horseback, but by a boat, it would take less than a week. Trains cut the time down from a week to a day.
Route 20 travels parallel to the canal, now deserted. The creation of the New York State Thruway stripped Route 20 of its traffic. In 1988, it carried more than 50 million vehicles
The greatest crisis of the assembly of the Erie Canal was a lack of waterproof cement to hold locks together. England was the only producer of waterproof cement, so the price and time would have destroyed the canal. Canvass White used limestone to create his own waterproof material that was substituted.
Baseball was the official sport of the canal country. There were four professional teams along the Erie. The canal passes along Cooperstown. Legend tells that Abner Doubleday created baseball there. However, he was supposedly at West Point on the day he allegedly created baseball.
In the 1870s and the 1880s, The Erie Canal competed with the Mississippi River for the American economy. (P.15) In the 1950s, the Erie Canal carried three million tons of cargo each year. Barges still create savings on fuel and labor. These numbers have not declined, but the canal itself is too shallow and narrow to transport large barges.
Joel finds organizations in Syracuse that attempt to control AIDS by the distribution of condoms. The Erie Canal also cut through cities where the founders of inventions can be found. Eastman