Rise and Fall of the Ohio and Erie Canal

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Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education & Practice


Transportation networks often go through life cycles as they develop, become mature, and on occasion fade away and are supplanted by newer transportation modes. The state of Ohio's first transportation network was based on canals. The life cycle of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the early economic development of Ohio were closely linked. The rise and fall of Ohio's canal system offer valuable lessons about the political and economic difficulties of embarking on vast infrastructure projects, as well as the benefits of doing so. Considerable engineering challenges had to be overcome to build the canal system. The canal system also required considerable maintenance and upkeep, and those costs played a large part in the system's eventual demise. The growth of the state economy and the rise of some of the largest cities in Ohio were direct results of the canal system. Although the canals were superseded by the railroads, in a sense they made the railroads possible. This paper reviews the engineering, economic, and political considerations that influenced the development and the eventual abandonment of the canal system.


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