Farming and Agriculture

Farming for profit began to replace some subsistence farming as many took advantage of the large tracts of available land out west that now had a reliable transportation system linking their goods to the growing factories and markets along the eastern seaboard. The East began to rely more and more on the West for agricultural products, both for consumption and for export to Europe. As a result of this east-west trade activity, small ports along the Erie Canal grew into viable commercial centers. And some, like Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, became boom towns. The City of Rochester became known as the "Flour Capital of the World" when it emerged as the largest producer of flour in the US in 1838.

With the increased volume of operations, farmers no longer controlled all aspects of moving their goods to market; various jobs they were once able to do themselves were being contracted out to keep up with the pace of demand. Whole classes of “middleman” occupations were on the rise: warehousers, distributors, craters, brokers, wholesalers, insurers, bankers, shippers, exporters, forwarding agents, and other servicers related to the movement of goods began appearing in cities and towns along the Canal and the ports of the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

This illustration shows R.B. Wing & Sons, a shipping supplies company established in Albany, New York in 1845. The boom in boat transportation (over 13,000 boats traveled the Erie Canal in its first year of operation) gave rise to many new jobs and occupations associated with moving people and goods along the Erie Canal. Courtesy of Albany Institute of History & Art via Capital District Library Council and Empire State Digital Network.

This photograph shows the Little Falls & Utica boat on the Erie Canal in Rochester, New York next to the Weigh Lock. Built in 1852, the Rochester Weigh Lock was located on the west bank of the Canal. Once in the covered area, the canal boat’s toll was determined by its weight. Courtesy of University of Rochester, Memorial Art Gallery via Rochester Regional Library Council and Empire State Digital Network.

This page from the Classified Business Directory of the City of Troy, New York and Vicinity illustrates how the Canal created abundant economic opportunities for cities and towns along the canal route, which also led to population increases. Courtesy of David Rumsey.