The Erie Canal is a canal in New York that is part of the east–west, cross-state route of the New York State Canal System (formerly known as the New York State Barge Canal). Originally, it ran about 363 miles (584 km) from Albany, on the Hudson River, to Buffalo, at Lake Erie. It was built to create a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.
First proposed in the 1780s, then re-proposed in 1807, a survey was authorized, funded, and executed in 1808. Proponents of the project gradually wore down opponents; its construction began in 1817. The canal has 35 numbered locks, plus the Federal Black Rock Lock, and an elevation differential of about 565 feet (172 m). It opened on October 26, 1825.
In a time when bulk goods were limited to pack animals (an eighth-ton [250 pounds (113 kg)] maximum), and there were no railways, water was the most cost-effective way to ship bulk goods.
The canal, denigrated by its political opponents as "Clinton's Folly" or "Clinton's Big Ditch", was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard (New York City) and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States that did not require portage.
It was faster than carts pulled by draft animals, and cut transport costs by about 95%. The canal fostered a population surge in western New York and opened regions farther west to settlement. It was enlarged between 1834 and 1862. The canal's peak year was 1855, when 33,000 commercial shipments took place. In 1918, the western part of the canal was enlarged to become part of the New York State Barge Canal, which ran parallel to the eastern half of the Erie Canal, and extended to the Hudson River.
In 2000, the United States Congress designated the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to recognize the national significance of the canal system as the most successful and influential human-built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering and construction in North America. Mainly used by recreational watercraft since the retirement of the last large commercial ship, the Day Peckinpaugh in 1994, the canal saw a recovery in commercial traffic in 2008....LESS