February 4, 1825: The Ohio Legislature passes an Act. “An Act to provide for the Internal Improvement of the State of Ohio by Navigable Canals” authorized borrowing $400,000 ($9.2 million in today’s currency) in 1825 and not more than $600,000 ($13.8 million) per year afterwards. The notes were to be redeemed between 1850 and 1875. This enormous amount of money would build the Ohio and Erie Canal. On July 4, 1825, ground was broken at Licking Summit near Newark, Ohio. The specifications called for a minimum width of 40 feet at the top and 26 feet at the bottom with a depth of at least 4 feet. This was often exceeded because it was cheaper to do so. Building one embankment and using foothills as the other side was cheaper even if it meant the width was in excess of specs.
Several different types of contracts were signed for various tasks: grubbing and clearing, mucking and ditching, embankment and excavations, locks and culverts, puddling, and lastly protection. Bids came in from a variety of local and inexperienced contractors. Given to the lowest bidder, the signatory would have often underbid and flee in the middle of the night, leaving a labor force unpaid and the work incomplete. It got to be so bad that workers would not sign up to build the canal for fear of not being paid. The process improved and more reliable contractors were hired and they in turn were then able to hire a work force. At the beginning, workers were paid just thirty cents ($6.89) per day and offered a jigger of whiskey. As time went on and a shortage of laborers created higher demand, they could earn as much as $15 per month ($345).
On July 3, 1827 the first canal boat to travel the Ohio and Erie Canal left Akron and went through 41 locks and over three aqueducts to arrive in Cleveland 37 miles away on July 4. The average speed for the journey was 3 mph. While it was slow, the canal boats could carry 10 tons of goods and so were much more efficient that wagons over the rutted roads of the time. Today, taking I-77, the trip between the two cities would take about 45 minutes. In 1828 the Akron to Massillon route opened. In 1829 the Massillon to Dover route opened. In 1830 the Dover to Newark route opened. In 1831 the Newark to Chillicothe route opened. In 1832 the Ohio and Erie Canal was complete and the entire system was 308 miles long with 146 lift locks and a rise of 1,206 feet.
Between the 1830s and the 1860s, the canals experienced a golden era with peak revenue earned between 1852 and 1855. Ohio was the third most prosperous state in large part due to the canal’s ability to move goods. The Civil War greatly curtailed trade and after the War, railroads were the new means to move goods around the country. Between 1861 and 1879, the state had leased the canals to private owners and when they took them back under their own control in 1879, they found they had not been maintained and much of the adjacent land had been illegally sold. They went out of service in 1913. Today, parts of the canal system are under the National Park Service.
Transportation is the center of the world! It is the glue of our daily lives. When it goes well, we don’t see it. When it goes wrong, it negatively colors our day, makes us feel angry and impotent, curtails our possibilities. – Robin Chase
States get to improve transportation infrastructure; that creates economic development, puts people back to work and, most important, enhances safety and improves local communities. – Corrine Brown
I don’t like traveling, period. I like being at places and I like going places, but I don’t like forms of transportation. – Travis Barker
The United States transportation system is the envy of the world. – Jerry Costello
Also on this day: 20,000 Leagues – In 1957, the USS Nautilus reaches 60,000 nautical miles, like her namesake.
Winter Sports – In 1932, the Third Winter Olympic Games began.
Codex Sinaiticus – In 1859, the Codex Sinaiticus was discovered.
Victimized – In 1974, Patty Hearst was kidnapped.
Yalta Conference – In 1945, the conference began in Yalta.