From Ohio History Central
The Erie Canal was a 363-mile canal that connected the Atlantic Ocean, via the Hudson River in eastern New York, with Lake Erie. The Erie Canal provided the first waterway connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.
During the late 1700s and the early 1800s, many Americans called for a canal that would traverse the Appalachian Mountains. While the Appalachians are not a major impediment to transportation today, during the 1700s and the early 1800s, with no paved roads or waterways across the mountain range, travel was slow and expensive. Many farmers and industrialists refused to send their products across the mountains due to the prohibitive cost. While expensive to build, a canal would allow for relatively quick travel and less expensive shipping costs than by wagons over land.
As early as 1724, New York residents suggested building a canal across northern New York to connect the Hudson River with the Great Lakes. Construction, however, did not begin until July 4, 1817. Portions of the canal opened as workers completed individual sections, but the entire canal, from Albany, New York, in the East to Buffalo, New York, in the West, did not open until October 26, 1825. The final canal had eighty-three locks to raise canal boats approximately six hundred feet -- the difference in altitude between the Hudson River and Lake Erie.
Completion of the Erie Canal dramatically altered life in Ohio. Thousands of settlers utilized the canal to move to Ohio. Cities in northern Ohio, especially Cleveland and Toledo, grew quickly and became important ports. Farmers and industrialists in northern Ohio now had a relatively cheap and quick means of transporting their products to market. The success of the Erie Canal also prompted the Ohio government to invest in canals within Ohio, most notably the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Miami and Erie Canal, both of which connected Lake Erie with the Ohio River.