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Freedom: A History of US.
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Webisode 4: Wake up, America
Introduction Segment 1 Segment 2 Segment 3 Segment 4 Segment 5 Segment 6 Segment 7

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Opening the Erie Canal
Segment 3
Tom Thumb on the tracks In Love With Progress

The early nineteenth century also became the era of canals. They were quieter, smoother, and more reliable than roads. The challenge was to get goods from the Midwest to the East Coast—quickly and inexpensively. Now it happens that the Great Lakes are an inland waterway that stretches from Minnesota to Wisconsin to New York state See It Now - A Map of New York. If you could build a canal from Buffalo on Lake Erie to Albany on the Hudson River, why you could float goods and people from New York all the way to Chicago and beyond Check The Source - Robert Fulton: A Letter to George Washington. But it meant digging a ditch 363 miles across the wilds of New York. No canal that long had ever been built Check The Source - DeWitt Clinton's Dream. Connecting the ends would be no easy job; Lake Erie is 568 feet higher than the Hudson. The engineers who took on the task had never even seen a canal. They didn't know they weren't qualified. They just got to work. The job took eight years and $7 million. And it required eighty-three locks to raise and lower boats, and an aqueduct to carry them across the Mohawk River. Somehow it all got done See It Now - Digging the Erie Canal.

The Erie Canal was the nation's pride Check The Source - The Erie Canal: "Low Bridge, Everybody Down"See It Now - Opening the Erie Canal. It was four feet deep and forty feet wide—a manmade river, an engineering marvel! But you couldn't steam up and down it—steamboats were just getting perfected and it wasn't deep enough for them anyway. What you did was hitch your barge to a mule and let her pull away. Soon canal barge drivers were singing this song:

I've got a mule and her name is Sal,
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.
She's a good old worker and a good old pal,
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.
Low bridge! Everybody down.
Low bridge! We're a-coming to a town.
You'll always know your neighbor,
You'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.


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Did You Know?
George Washington believed that canals were the wave of the future. He invested in the Potomac Canal system (near Washington D.C.) and in the Kanahwa Canal, which was never actually completed.


Did you know that Freedom is adapted from the award-winning Oxford University Press multi-volume book series, A History of US by Joy Hakim?



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