It is difficult to separate out the history of westward expansion, the revolution in transportation, and the growth of an industrial market economy that all took hold in America during the first quarter of the nineteenth century.

It is difficult to separate out the history of westward expansion, the revolution in transportation, and the growth of an industrial market economy that all took hold in America during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Those topics have their own very fascinating histories, but they are also interconnected as causes and consequences of each other’s incredible growth. America’s Industrial Revolution, fueled by steam, and a demand for manufactured goods and commodity agricultural products (cotton, wheat, textiles, boats, trains, train tracks, etc.) created many new types of jobs, from manufacturing line workers, to managers, to machinists, and engineers. By the mid-nineteenth century, the fastest growing profession in the United States was engineering. The engineering feats especially related to the expansion of transportation networks that were accomplished in the first quarter of the nineteenth century are the focus of the documents in this exercise. Engineers used the vast resources available on the continent of North America in combination with technological advances to shape the American landscape in extraordinary ways, and in the process create a robust, fast-growing national market economy.



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Document 1 Excerpt is an excerpt from Facts and Observations in Relation to the Origin and Completion of the Erie Canal by John Rutherford (i.e.: Rutherfurd) (New York: N.B. Holmes, 1825). In this document, a proponent of the large project of the construction of a canal in Western western New York argues that the idea had long been in the visions of Americans. Now (1825) circumstances, resources, and technology exist to make the dream a reality. All that is needed is political will in the state legislature of New York.

Found on (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Document 2 Map includes a map and graphic representation of the area serviced by the Erie Canal, with profiles of the canal and lochs that show the varying depths and other features. Produced in 1859. After it opened in 1825, this important undertaking helped spur the creation of a national economy by tying together the regional economies of the Midwest and the East.

Document 3 Map is a map of the central portion of the United States, showing proposed routes for Pacific railroads, ca. 1850. Almost as soon as the technology was available to imagine long routes of railway travel, debates emerged over proposed routes to cross the continent. Would the route mostly reside in the northern part of the country, or would those in the South and the West prevail and get the transcontinental railway of the future closer to their cities and transportation hubs? Indeed, the debates over the proposed routes of the Transcontinental Railroad paralleled many of the other sectional differences of the first half of the nineteenth century.


1. Read textbook chapters 8 through 10.

2. Read Document 1, an excerpt by John Rutherford about the need for and construction of the Erie Canal.

3. Examine Documents 2 and 3, maps of The Erie Canal and proposed railway routes across the Midwestern United States.

4. Answer the questions that follow and be sure to label your answers and submit in the inbox below in the accepted formats. 


1) What were the main elements of the Industrial Revolution?

2) Why was it so important for John Rutherford that the goods and agricultural products produced in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and the Great Lakes region flow through western New York state?

3)What can Document 2 teach historians about the Eire Canal and its significance? 

4) What does Document 3 inform current students of history about?

Document 1

…In addition to these advantages, which will accrue to the citizens residing near the line of navigation, there are others of much greater importance in relation to the commerce of the State. The canal will then be in complete order to receive the trade of the western States, and the inhabitants of those States, gratified and delighted with the improved facilities and accommodations, will not seek other routes to the tide water, but cheerfully bend their course to the Hudson. The present consolation of those who are in favour of other routes, is, that the Erie canal will be preoccupied by the citizens of the State, that there will be no room for the inhabitants of other States, who must therefore seek tide water in other places. The advocates of the Welland canal, constructing with an expectation of cutting off the trade of the Hudson, and connecting the interior with the merchants of a foreign country beyond the control and fiscal regulations of the United States ; and the revivers of the project of the Niagara canal, to enable the sloops of Lake Erie to descend into Ontario, and thence on a destination unknown, all have their hopes and expectations, while many of our citizens are striving to direct the trade from the Hudson to the tide waters of the Delaware, Susquehannah, Potomac, James River, and the Mississippi.

Colonel John L. Sullivan one of the most experienced civil engineers of the United States, who is now in the employ of the central government as a member of the board of internal improvement, says, in a report dated February 3d, 1825,

“the apprehension of a want of income proportionate to the cost of public works, is dissipated by the success of the Erie canal, thronged with navigation even before it has reached the lake. And although the capacity of that canal for business may be increased by parallel locks and other means, there are limitations to its power, set by the command of water it possesses. Ever since the commencement of that work, the western counties of New-York have been increasing greatly in population; and there will be no necessity for business from Ohio and Michigan to ensure a competent revenue from the Erie canal. The very facts which show the wisdom of that undertaking, prove that the western States may find it preoccupied. The nearest customers must always have the preference – the are in possession.”

If a water communication is opened from the Western to the Atlantic States, nearly the whole trade of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana will flow in this direction. The New-York canal will draw through the lake, for the present, the produce of the northern parts of Ohio and Indiana, but when the magnificent project of threading the Alleghanies with a canal, and uniting the Ohio, nay, the great lakes themselves with the Chesapeake, shall be put in execution, which, since the recent surveys would seem to prove it practicable, may he expected at no distant day ; then the entire trade of these three states will flow into this channel, as being the shortest and most expeditious route to the tide waters of the Atlantic. In this event Baltimore will inevitably become the chief mart of western produce, and possess an almost exclusive privilege of sending over the mountains, supplies of home manufactures and foreign products. Georgetown, Washington, and Alexandria will doubtless be greatly benefitted by such a communication to the west, but the local situation of these towns is not such as to enable any one or all of them to gain the ascendancy already held by Baltimore.

In a report of a committee of the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania, on inland navigation made in February 1825, they say that, “from her position, Philadelphia under a wise policy will ever a great commercial city and the real centre of the manufactures and wealth of the union.”

These are some of the latest sentiments, which have been expressed on the effects of the canals from the tide water to the interior, and on the positions and future Importance of the commercial cities, and are founded on the facts which have been lately developed. The citizens of New-York ought not to disregard them, on the contrary, they should carefully examine the probable results of the proposed plans of improvement, and take every prudent precaution, and adopt every active measure which which may be necessary to enable them to preserve the advantages which they derive from their highly favourable position. It is conceived that it is in their power to invite to their port, through the Erie canal, not only the trade of their own State, but also part of the trade of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, of districts of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Illinois, and of Michigan and the Northwest Territory. It has been ascertained the surveys of the U. S. engineers, and is stated in their report of February, 1825, that there is a practicable route for a canal, from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, by the valleys of the Big Beaver Creek and the Astabula which will be only 104 miles in length, and with a lockage of only 557 feet, thus making the lockage from Pittsburgh to the tide water of the Hudson, if the proposed alterations in the Erie canal are effected, only 1095 feet ; of which 330 feet will be descending lockage, while the route from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia by the Susquehanna, will have 3358 feet lockage, and to Baltimore and Alexandria by the Potomac, 3837 feet. These considerations will give the Lake Erie and Hudson route a decided superiority, provided there are no limitations set to its power by the command of water it possesses, and “the western States do not find it preoccupied, as the nearest customers must have the preference, they being in possession.” The wary miller, who finds that there will be shortly more grist brought to his mill, than one run of stones can grind, does not wait until the fact proved, his customers turned away, and other mills erected in opposition to him, but he immediately projects further improvements, to prevent the loss, competition, and disappointment which would otherwise ensue; he increases his command of water, he husbands and prevents waste of it and constructs additional runs of stones, commensurate with his means and the demand for employment. This course of proceeding, it is suggested, should be the policy of the Legislature of New-York, and immediate measures by adopting the proposed improvements, to be prepared to forward without delay and with increased velocity the passage of every boat, which may hereafter apply for admission on the Erie Canal.

We hope that our readers are by this time convinced, that it is the duty and policy of the people of New-York, to provide for the contingencies which have been mentioned before they occur; and that it is in their power to prevent the transit of articles from being arrested and diverted into other channels. By careful provisions, the State of New-York may enjoy the whole of the intercourse between the Atlantic and western States, and the vast advantage of being the entrepot of the commerce of the union.

Document 2

 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Source – Map and profiles of New York State Canals – Library of Congress

Document 3

 (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Source – Map Railroad: Library of Congress


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