Before the building of the Interstate Highway System under President Eisenhower in the 1950s, the greatest public works project in US history was the Erie Canal. Built between 1817-1825, it stretched an astonishing 373 miles across upstate New York to connect the Hudson River with Lake Erie. Now manufactured goods from eastern states and Europe could flow into the American heartland in exchange for commodities like grain, furs, and lumber. The canal triggered extraordinary national economic growth and transformed New York City into the “Empire City” as it surpassed rival ports like Boston and Philadelphia. In this talk, we’ll examine the visionaries behind the canal, the incredible feats of engineering it required, the workers who did the grunt work, the many copycat canal projects (most destined to fail) that it inspired, and the ultimate fate of the canal over the course of the 19th century.