Imagine what it would be like if there was no good form of transportation within a state. How would that affect the country's economy and communications? Now imagine what life was like before the invention of railroads, cars, and airplanes. There would really be only two forms of travel, other than walking: one would be by animal (either wagon or riding) and the other would be by water.

Transportation has played an important part in U.S. history. In the early 1800s, traveling beyond the Allegheny Mountains was a big problem. A road had been built in the south called the Wilderness Road, but it was not easily accessible to wagons. A more practical route needed to be found. A man-made waterway—a canal—seemed like a logical solution.

Even before the Revolution, people in New York had thought of creating a canal that would reach the Great Lakes. During America's War for Independence, the patriot Gouverneur Morris, who would later play an influential role in drafting the U.S. Constitution, publicly proposed the usefulness of such a canal. Morris proved very influential, and in the early 1800s a commission was formed to report on the possibility of connecting the Hudson River to Lake Erie by a canal. "Gouverneur Morris was the father of our great canal," said Stephen Van Rensselaer.

In 1812, five million dollars were allocated to the project, but with the eruption of the War of 1812, the funds were urgently needed elsewhere. After the war, De Witt Clinton became the champion of the canal project. He dedicated much of his life to this endeavor.

While serving as mayor of New York City (1803-1815), Clinton promoted the canal idea. Finally, in 1817 construction began at Rome, New York. The canal would eventually run from Albany to Buffalo, but the project began in the middle. Clinton reasoned that if the center section was completed, both ends would insist that the canal be finished. Besides, the land around Rome was relatively flat for 80 miles, which would make digging and building easier. At the ground-breaking ceremony on July 4, 1817, a lavish celebration was held. Vigorously the canal-making began, and by 1819, a small portion opened for use.

Construction of the canal was a colossal undertaking. Many of the men who labored on it were Irish immigrants who had come to the new world looking to improve their lives. They made eighty cents to one dollar a day.

Several obstacles faced the builders, including the difference of elevation—560 feet!—between Buffalo and Albany. With Buffalo so much higher, the builders created numerous locks to solve the problem. A lock is a stair by which a boat can go up or down, only in this case the stair is made of water which raises or lowers the boat to the next level. The Erie Canal contained 83 locks.

One of the most dangerous parts of the canal, for those building it, was Montezuma's Swamp. The mosquito-infested marsh caused a wave of sickness among the workers, and many died of malaria.

Special waterproof cement had to be created to line the bottom and sides of the canal. Rivers also proved a challenge. To cross a river, an aqueduct would be built over it, and the canal would run through the aqueduct. The aqueducts were like bridges over a river, only the bridges had water in them instead of being solid paths. In all, 18 aqueducts were built. The canal itself had to be dug out by hand with the help of horses, and it ended up being forty feet wide and four feet deep. Along one edge, a towpath was made for horses to walk on as they pulled the canal boats.

Finally, on October 26, 1825, the canal was complete. De Witt Clinton, who had risen to the position of governor, presided over the ceremony in Buffalo. The happy governor led a procession from Buffalo to Albany in the Seneca Chief. From Albany he journeyed to New York City, where he poured a keg of water from Lake Erie into the Atlantic in what has been called "the marriage of the water." The Atlantic was now connected to the Great Lakes.