Better Than a Pack Mule
October 25, 1825: Erie Canal Opens
On this day in 1825 the Erie Canal opens, linking the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. The Erie is a canal in New York that originally ran about 363 miles from Albany, New York on the Hudson River, to Buffalo, New York at Lake Erie. It completed a navigable water route from New York City (and the Atlantic Ocean) to the Great Lakes.
[Top picture: Without a mule or a horse you went nowhere on the Erie Canal. Boats had to bring their own mules; they rotated them over the course of the journey]
At the time when bulk goods were limited to pack animals (a 250 pound maximum), and there were no steamships or railways, water was the most cost-effective way to ship bulk goods or significant tonnages of any kind going back to the earliest days of recorded history.
The canal contains 36 locks and encompasses a total elevation differential of approximately 565 ft. It was under construction from 1817 to 1825 and is widely regarded a chief cause that New York eclipsed Philadelphia as the largest city and port on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
The Erie Canal is a great example of American ingenuity and boldness. The canal was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard (New York City) and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States that did not require portage. It was faster than carts pulled by draft animals, and cut transport costs by about 95%.
Today the Erie Canal is the cross-state east-west route of the New York State Canal System. In 2000 the United States Congress designated the Erie Canal Way a National Heritage Corridor to recognize the national significance of the canal system as the most successful and influential human-built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering and construction in North America.
Currently it is mainly used by recreational watercraft.
Springsteen’s Erie Canal
The popular song “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal” was written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen after Erie Canal barge traffic was converted from mule power to engine power, raising the speed of traffic above fifteen miles per day. Also known as “Low Bridge, Everybody Down,” “The Erie Canal Song,” “Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal,” “Mule Named Sal,” and “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal,” the song memorializes the years from 1825 to 1880 when the mule barges made boomtowns out of Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, and transformed New York into the Empire State.