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.
Work began on the waterway 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.
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 time. Barges 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.