Benjamin Wright (1770-1842) If you were a merchant in 1800, and you did not live near an easily navigable river, your transportation options were few. If there was a road, you could move your goods in a horse-drawn or ox-drawn wagon. If not, you strapped your goods onto a pack animal. There were no railroads yet so moving goods was a huge problem. Canals were coming into wide use in England and Holland. But America faced a problem — very few engineers. They trained in England, then returned to the States. A canal project definitely needs trained civil engineers for every aspect of design and construction. A canal is a long, gently sloping waterway punctuated by locks that handle significant grade changes. The water level along the entire canal has to be maintained using surrounding water sources like rivers and lakes. Gravity does all the work of moving the water in early canals. If it's not done right, the canal dries up or floods. The Erie Canal, overseen by principal engineer Benjamin Wright, was a monumental achievement for the time. It stretched from Albany, NY, all the way to Buffalo, NY, 360 miles (580 km) and 36 locks away. It connected the Hudson River, and therefore New York City, to Lake Erie. It was possible to get all the way to Toledo, Ohio, because Lake Erie is about 150 miles (240 km) long. Once the canal was completed in 1825, it created a transformation. A canal boat could carry 60,000 pounds (27,000 kg) of freight. Therefore, the cost of moving a ton of freight fell rapidly. It might have originally cost $100 to $120 to move a ton of freight the distance of the canal. The Erie Canal dropped that price below five dollars. Moving tons of wheat or piles of logs to market suddenly became affordable. It was revolutionary. The Erie Canal project had an even greater importance for the profession: it became a school of engineering for many people. It is no coincidence that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the nation's first engineering college, opened just a few miles from the Albany, NY, end of the Erie Canal in 1824, one year before the completion of the project.