Our Grand Erie Canal - A Splendid Project, A Little Short of Madness

by Walter B. Langbein, (F.ASCE), Hydrology Engineer; U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, D.C.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1977, Vol. 47, Issue 13, Pg. 60-66

Document Type: Feature article


As the first major water project in the United States, the old Erie Canal had major consequences on the economy and on civil engineering. Built in 1817-1825 to take advantage of the lowest pass to the West, the canal established New York City as the leading American city. The canal brought farm and forest products to the city, and returning barges carried manufactured goods and immigrants to populate the Great Lakes region. The construction of the canal introduced hydraulic cement and developed the engineers capable of building the railroads and other great works that followed. Major operational difficulties, such as insufficient water supplies, insufficient hydraulic capacity, and frequent washouts, demonstrated the importance of adequate basic data and hydraulics. Environmental adversities feared by the planners did not materialize, which may have induced the busy engineers of the 19th century to disregard environmental concerns.

Subject Headings: Canals | Hydraulics | Agriculture | Forests | Barges | Lakes | Construction management | Cement | United States | New York City | New York | Great Lakes

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