5/17/10 - the erie canal

In today's excerpt - the Eric Canal. In 1825, Philadelphia was still the largest city in America, with New York City and Boston close behind. But then New York opened the Erie Canal, a massive government project that connected its ports to the Midwest via the Great Lakes. Scorned derisively as "Clinton's Folly," or "Clinton's Ditch" after New York Governor and canal proponent, DeWitt Clinton, when it opened New York City almost instantly became the greatest boomtown the world had ever seen:

"In the early nineteenth century, New York was a large town, but it had a number of peers, including Philadelphia. The key decision that vaulted New York to prominence was the decision to build the Erie Canal. In John Steele Gordon's account of America's rise to an 'empire of wealth,' he noted the importance of that canal.

"The Erie Canal ... turned New York into the greatest boomtown the world has ever known. Manhattan's population grew to 202,000 in 1830, 313,000 in 1840, 516,000 in 1850, and 814,000 in 1860. ... In 1800 about 9 percent of the country's exports passed through the port of New York. By 1860, it was 62 percent, as the city became what the Boston poet and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes (the father of the Supreme Court justice) rather grumpily described as 'that tongue that is licking up the cream of commerce and finance of a continent.'

"These figures are for Manhattan—the surrounding parts of what is now New York City were growing as well. This explosion was all due to the Erie Canal. Before the canal, it had taken three weeks at a cost of $120 to move a ton of flour from Buffalo to New York City. After the canal's construction, it took eight days and cost $6. Gordon remarked that, before the canal was even completed, 'the Times of London saw it coming, writing that year [1822] that the canal would make New York City the 'London of the New World.' The Times was right. It was the Erie Canal that gave the Empire State its commercial empire and made New York the nation's imperial city. That was when the position of New York as an economic powerhouse was first firmly established, and the title has yet to be relinquished."


Douglas Wilson


Five Cities That Ruled The World


Thomas Nelson, Inc.


Copyright 2009 by Douglas Wilson


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