The construction of 363 miles long Erie Canal was a turning point in a commercial life of Albany (Roark et al. 285). It was one of the biggest government-sponsored enterprises at the time. The canal connected the New York City region with the area of Great Lakes (Roark et al. 285). Before the start of a massive private investment into railroads supplemented by the significant state subsidizing it was the cheapest and most efficient way of transportation. At the beginning of the 1830s, the cost of shipping bulk goods was less than ten percent of the costs of overland transportation (Roark et al. 285). Considering that at that time the distance of the longest rail line did not exceed thirty miles, it was the most reliable method to transport bulk cargo.
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Life in Albany immediately changed with the opening of the canal in 1825 (Roark et al. 285). It was a widely celebrated event that marked a new era in the city’s life. The commercial impact of the canal transformed Albany forever. However, it began changing long before the official opening of the route. Irish immigrants were a significant portion of the labor force that helped to build the canal. They formed new communities along its route, and many of them settled in Albany (Sheriff 53). They enriched a labor pool I relied on for my business of grain transportation. Wheat was a low-priced commodity and was shipped in high volume so I needed a lot of hard working people that would load and unload ships. However, Irishmen were not the only newcomers to the city; other settlers lured by the growth of commerce flooded its streets. Even though the Erie Canal was going to be a commercial route for transportation of freights, many passenger boats also started crossing it from its opening (Sheriff 53). By the end of 1825, more than forty thousand passengers of packet boats and other tourists vessels traveled through it (Sheriff 53). The steady inflow of other businessmen to the city also changed the nature of my business operations. New people engaged in the transportation of large quantities of goods and organized their own companies, so I had to adapt to the unseen before level of competition.
The contribution of the Erie Canal to the city commercial life of the Albany cannot be overstated. Wholesale merchants were not the only ones who enjoyed emerging commercial opportunities opened by the water route. A new breed of small retail merchants that were dealing in small quantities of goods around the canal arose. Emerging merchants took advantage of the steady flow of tourists and peddled their goods such as literature, bread, clocks and fruits from vessel to vessel (Sheriff 53). In order to earn a profit, some unconscionable men would sell treatments against foot corns and warts; others would try to deal in counterfeits bills (Sheriff 53).
The tourists from Albany were also enjoying new traveling possibilities. New “northern tour” became a popular route with the most admired destination for American and foreign tourists—Niagara Falls (Sheriff 53). They were lured by the beauty of Little Falls and wanted to travel by canal to see it. Artificial and natural experience of the travel served as a powerful attraction for the steady flow of tourists (Sheriff 53).
The success of the canal called for its enlargement in 1835 (Sheriff 54). The traffic was so high that in order to accommodate it the Erie Canal was enlarged twice. It declined only with the commercial use of railroads late in the 20th century (Sheriff 54).
Roark, James, Michael Johnson, Patricia Cline Cohen, Sarah Stage and Susan Hartmann. The American Promise. Volume 1: to 1877. 6th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. Print.
Sheriff, Carol. The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress 1817-1862. New York: Hill & Wang, 1996. Print.
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