Once the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, it connected New York City via the Hudson River with Buffalo, New York, which is on Lake Erie.
From there, barges and boats could reach areas of the upper Midwest by way of the Great Lakes.
In those days, roads were hardly more than rough trails, and traveling west over the Allegheny Mountains was difficult, slow, and expensive.
This new transportation route made trade between East Coast businesses and Midwest farmers much easier, cheaper, and faster.
As a result, the economy grew and more people prospered. The Erie Canal helped New York City grow to become a world commercial center, and it also spurred settlement of the American West.
The Erie Canal was an engineering marvel.
In just 8 years, men working only with the help of horses dug a waterway that was 363 miles (584 km) long, 40 feet (12 m) wide, and 4 feet (1.2 m) deep.
They also had to build 83 locks so that barges could cross the 500-foot (152 m) rise in elevation west of Troy, New York.