Erie Canal, the most famous of the early canals in the United States and one of the most important transportation links of the first half of the 19th century. It extended from near Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo on Lake Erie, following the valley of the Mohawk River and the lowlands to the west. Cities along the route included Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica.
The first suggestions for a canal in the Mohawk Valley were made about 1800. At that time, roads linking eastern and western New York were poor and the Mohawk River itself was inadequate as a transport route. DeWitt Clinton, then mayor of New York City, began a campaign in 1815 to raise money for a canal. Approval was granted by the state legislature in 1817, and construction was begun immediately. Upon completion of the $7,000,000 project in 1825, the Erie was 363 miles (584 km) long and had a minimum depth of 4 feet (1.2 m). Some 70 locks raised barges from 20 feet (6 m) above sea level at the Hudson River to Lake Erie's 570 feet (174 m).
Effects of the new canal were soon evident. Travel time between Albany and Buffalo was cut by two-thirds and, despite the tolls charged on the canal, freight charges dropped 90 per cent or more. Western farm products and raw materials began moving over the canal in vast quantities to eastern markets. The Erie Canal has been called the greatest single contribution to New York City's development as a commercial and financial capital. In turn, the westward movement of immigrants and manufactured goods over the canal stimulated the growth of the Great Lakes region. The Erie's immediate success caused a wave of canal building in the eastern United States.
Strong competition from the railroads in the latter half of the 19th century began to reduce the Erie Canal's importance. Despite widening and deepening improvements, barge and boat traffic never again reached the peaks of the 1860's and 1870's. The canal was enlarged and modernized between 1905 and 1918 and incorporated into the New York State Barge Canal, losing its identity.