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This Day In History, 1825


The Erie Canal opens, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River. Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York, the driving force behind the project, led the opening ceremonies and rode the canal boat Seneca Chief from Buffalo to New York City.

New York legislators became interested in the possibility of building a canal across New York in the first decade of the 19th century. Shipping goods west from Albany was a costly and tedious affair; there was no railroad yet, and to cover the distance from Buffalo to New York City by stagecoach took two weeks. Governor Clinton enthusiastically took up the proposal to build a canal from Buffalo, on the eastern point of Lake Erie, to Albany, on the upper Hudson, passing through the gap in the mountains in the Mohawk Valley region. By 1817, he had convinced the legislature to authorize the expenditure of $7 million for the construction of a canal that he proposed would be 363 miles long, 40 feet wide, and four feet deep.

Work began on "Clinton's Ditch" in August 1823. Teams of oxen plowed the ground, but for the most part the work was done by Irish diggers who had to rely on primitive tools. They were paid $10 a month, and barrels of whisky were placed along the canal route as encouragement. West of Troy, 83 canal locks were built to accommodate the 500-foot rise in elevation. After more than two years of digging, the 425-mile Erie Canal was opened on October 26, 1825, by Governor Clinton.

As Clinton left Buffalo in the Seneca Chief, an ingenious method of communication was used to inform New York City of the historic occasion. Cannons were arranged along the length of the canal and the river, each within hearing distance of the next cannon. As the governor began his trip, the first cannon was fired, signaling the next to fire. Within 81 minutes, the word was relayed to New York--it was the fastest communication the world had ever known. After arriving in New York on September 4, Clinton ceremoniously emptied a barrel of Lake Erie water in the Atlantic Ocean, consummating the "Marriage of the Waters" of the Great Lakes and the Atlantic.

The effect of the canal was immediate and dramatic. Settlers poured into western New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Goods were transported at one-tenth the previous fee in less than half the previous time. Barge loads of farm produce and raw materials traveled east as manufactured goods and supplies flowed west. In nine years, tolls had paid back the cost of construction. Later enlarged and deepened, the canal survived competition from the railroads in the latter part of the 19th century. Today, the Erie Canal is used mostly by pleasure boaters, but it is still capable of accommodating heavy barges.


The cannons: good latency, terrible bandwidth (one bit), not much throughput.
Yeah, but for the time period, it was a clever way of getting their message across as quickly as possible.

I'm often amazed at how today we've come to expect instantaneous communication of news.
Oh, it's an ingenious solution given the technological constraints. I just happened to have a snide comment lying around needing to be used. :-)
Apropros nothing much, one of the projects I'm beginning is a collection of biographies of Chicago mayors. One of our mayors was named Dewitt Clinton Cregier. He was born the year after Clinton died.
My Dad went to DeWitt Clinton high school, and I'm fond of New York City history, so I enjoy learning about the guy...

Interesting about Cregier. Did his name inspire him to enter politics, one wonders.
Possible, but not likely. It turns out that his greatnth grandfather was a Huguenot named Martin Cregier, who came over in 1653 and was the first Burgomeister of Nieu Amsterdam. D.C. Cregier was the 26th mayor of Chicago. Born in NYC, he moved to Chicago when he was 24 and worked as a pumping engineer, then as a City Engineer and then Commissioner of Public Works until his election as mayor in 1889. He was the mayor who won the 1893 World Columbian Exposition for Chicago.

And now you know more than you ever wanted about Dewitt Clinton Cregier.
Well, at least more than I ever expected to know. :-)

December 2016

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