By Phin Upham
The Erie Canal was a major development, not just for New York but the entire United States. It had several important economic benefits, including lowering the cost of transporting goods. Originally planned for construction in 1807, the canal actually started work in 1817 and was completed by 1825. That long phase of planning and construction was necessary, as many details needed to be fleshed out.
Britain was experiencing something the papers of the day had dubbed “Canal Mania,” which had occurred after several canals were successfully built across both England and France. By 1724, the idea of the canal had already reached American shores, and the idea was to make one that would connect East and West. Early attempts were started in Mohawk Valley, but financing proved too difficult.
George Washington later took up the fight for the canal, but was unable to complete anything substantial. Fourteen years after his death, the Potomac Canal was opened, but it did not quite have the impact the Erie would.
It was a man named Jessie Hawley who finally got enough steam behind his efforts to get the canal built. He spread his vision of Midwestern crop farmers bringing goods to the east, and overseas. Ironically, he would go bankrupt trying to utilize a canal for those means, but it was while in debtor’s prison that he came up with the plans for the Erie Canal.
Upon his release, he enlisted the help of an agent of the Holland Land Company to sell his plan to the State of New York. Fortunately, they bought it and revolutionized trade forever.