Working on the Erie Canal

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Cover Image:
Working on the Erie Canal
Building the Steamboat Iroquois in a Boatyard Near Onondaga Lake - Image Source

Collection Facts

Dates of Original:
c. 1820 - 1930

Historical Context

The Erie Canal was part of the New York State Canal System, which connected the Great Lakes basin to New York City by opening up new trade routes. By providing cheaper and more efficient means to transport goods, the canal had a substantial and enduring impact on the economic development of New York State, as well as the United States as a whole. The canal’s construction began in 1817 and officially opened for travel in 1825. With stops along many parts of New York State, trade and travel grew and the state prospered. A large number of laborers, many of whom were immigrants, worked to construct the Erie Canal.

Scope of Collection

The “Working on the Erie Canal” collection provides insight into the lives of those who worked on the Erie Canal from the 1820s to the 1930s, from the early days of canal enlargement to the industrial age of the Barge Canal. Through photographs, receipts, contracts, and other ephemera, this collection provides insight into the operation of the Erie Canal as workers faced winter weather, advances in boat construction, competition from other modes of transportation, among other obstacles. From the surveyors and construction workers who built the canal to the lock operators and administrators who managed the canal's operations, this collection depicts the Erie Canal and its workers as agents of progress and transformation.