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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about the Erie Canal. In 1825, mules tugged the first barge down this manmade waterway linking the Great Lakes with New York City.


CURWOOD: For early Americans, the commerce of the New World came to a screeching halt at the Appalachian Mountains, simply because there was no easy way around. But 175 years ago this week, a single mule tugged the first barge down the Erie Canal. The waterway connected New York City to the Great Lakes and carried pioneers west and raw materials east. When New York City Mayor DeWitt Clinton first proposed the canal, President Thomas Jefferson called it "a little short of madness" and wouldn't commit a cent of federal funds. After all, the Hudson River and Lake Erie were separated by 363 miles, 568 feet of elevation, and the Mohawk River. The four lead engineers had never even seen a canal before, and most of the designers and laborers were uneducated immigrants. But they did the seemingly impossible. They built an enormous aqueduct to carry the canal across a deep gorge, created a series of locks to counter the draining effect of the land's elevation, and even lined the canal with apple trees to feed the barge-pulling mules. When the dust settled, they had transformed Clinton's folly into an engineering marvel of ingenuity that remains an eighth wonder of the world. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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