Friday, June 7, 2013


The Erie Canal, extending from the Hudson River near Albany/Troy to Lake Erie near Buffalo, was a very successful entrepreneurial project built in the early-mid 19th century. Large canal boats that plied its waters opened the trans-Allegheny west to settlers and to commerce.  To make toll charges fair, the canal company built specialized “Weigh Locks”, something we had never before encountered. The weigh lock was designed along a flat part of the canal.  A barge would enter, the lock space would close on both ends and then the water would drain out of the lock leaving the barge to rest on a cradle which was attached to a lever system connected to a scale.  Each boat was registered with its own unloaded weight.  The unloaded weight (tare) was then subtracted from the weight registered on the scale and, lo and behold, the toll taker determined the weight of the cargo.  A toll was then paid based on that weight. The lock was then filled with water to bring the boat to a proper floating level, the gates were opened and the barge with its cargo went on its way.
Chase Bank desk where tolls were calculated and recorded

Model of scale used to weigh loaded canal boats

Dry goods shoppe which flourished along the shores of the Erie Canal

Syracuse China Co. was founded and expanded -- providing dishware which could be shipped west along the canal

The Erie Canal paid off its bonds in 25 years after which its tolls paid for current maintenance.  In 1885, canal passage was declared free in an effort to compete with the railroad, which had by then become a major transportation system, which allowed for more rapid travel and easier movement of goods.  So, a better system replaced one that had been outstanding in its day. Such is the creative, though at times destructive, power of capitalism.