Opening of the Erie Canal

U.S. #1325 was issued on the 150th anniversary of the canal’s groundbreaking in Rome, New York.

On October 26, 1825, the Erie Canal opened, offering a quicker shipping route through New York’s waterways.

In the early 1800s, sending goods west from New York City across the state was expensive and took a lot of time. There were no railroads yet and it took two weeks to travel by stagecoach. Several New York legislators proposed the idea of building a canal across the state, and they received tremendous support from governor DeWitt Clinton.

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Clinton had served as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention, a U.S. Senator, and mayor of New York City before being elected governor in 1817. While in office, he pushed for the construction of the Erie Canal to connect the upper Hudson River to the eastern shore of Lake Erie.

U.S. #TA380a – U.S. Cigarette stamp picturing DeWitt Clinton.

Clinton convinced the legislature to supply $7 million for this project. His opponents thought the canal was impractical and named it “Clinton’s Ditch.” Clinton’s proposed canal would be 363 miles long, 40 feet wide, and four feet deep. Construction on the canal began on July 4, 1817, in Rome, New York (just 18 miles from Mystic’s home in Camden, New York). The first 15-mile section (stretching from Rome to Utica) opened in 1819.

After more than two years of digging, the 425-mile Erie Canal officially opened on October 26, 1825. Clinton, who had planned the canal’s design and supervised its construction, played a major role in the opening ceremonies. That day he boarded the Seneca Chief in Buffalo and would travel the full length of the canal, then the Hudson, all the way to New York City.

U.S. #2257 was issued in Buffalo, New York, where the Erie Canal originated.

As part of the ceremony, cannons were set up along the entire length of the river, within hearing distance of each other. As Clinton left Buffalo, the first cannon was shot off, which signaled the next one to fire. Cannons boomed the message all the way to New York City within 81 minutes, the fastest communication of the time.

Clinton arrived in New York City on November 4. Upon arrival in New York Harbor, he emptied two small barrels of water from Lake Erie into the harbor to signify the joining of the two bodies of water.

The Erie Canal was successful from the start. It was much faster to transport goods up the Hudson River and through the 36 locks of the canal than to travel by land, and it cost about 95% less. The canal opened the West to settlement and trade and gave Midwest farmers an economical way to get their grain to market. New York City became the largest port city in the United States, and the population of New York State increased dramatically along the canal route.

U.S. #1325 FDC – Erie Canal Fleetwood First Day Cover.

The critics of DeWitt Clinton were silenced when the importance of the canal to the country was realized. Some consider Clinton an unsung American hero.

U.S. #2257 FDC – Canal Boat Fleetwood First Day Cover.

Click here to visit the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor website.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.


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  1. Excellent information. I grew up in NYC and never learned of the significance of the Erie Canal or of DeWitt Clinton (other than that he’d been a governor of NY State) in my public education schooling. Over fifty years later, stamps are still educating me!

    1. Took a ride on a boat pulled by a mule in a section of the Eerie Canal that existed in the eighties. It was quiet, peaceful and serene. Quiet relaxing as the wood boat was towed through the still smooth water. Was fun to enjoy the past in the present. The memory of the hour ride was brought back by This Day In History. Thank you Mystic Stamp Company.

    2. Yo Al, not knowing is no excuse. I’m from Buffalo and whether you know it or not you owe me 2 barrels of Erie canal water. I’ll catch up with you at a watering hole anywhere, any time. I’ll bring the wings.

  2. Learn something new every day. I live in cleveland oh. And never knew it ended in New York City.

    Excellent story!!

    1. The canal terminates at the Hudson River, which flows along the west side of Manhattan, so, technically, the canal doesn’t end in NYC, but the waterway does.

  3. I was born in Utica, and I think the canal’s official designation now is the New York State Barge Canal. A very good book about the story of the building of the canal is “Bond of Union” by Gerard Koeppel. By the way, the plural of cannon is cannons, not cannon’s. Thank you for the excellent article.

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