Wedding of the Waters | Peter L. Bernstein

Summary of: Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation
By: Peter L. Bernstein


Get ready to step back in time and discover the incredible story of the Erie Canal, a seemingly primitive 363-mile-long waterway that revolutionized trade in the early United States. In Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation, author Peter L. Bernstein demonstrates how this extraordinary engineering feat bypassed the Appalachian Mountains, enriched the economy, and birthed an era of globalization and free trade. Unravel the intricate web of visionaries, politicians, engineers, and challenges behind the canal’s creation, and gain insights into the transformative impact it had on the nation’s development and international trade.

The Revolutionary Erie Canal

The Erie Canal, stretching 363 miles from Albany to Buffalo, was a revolutionary project connecting Lake Erie and the Hudson River. The canal was built by a team of surveyors, engineers, and politicians, and without this essential trade connection, the United States may have splintered into separate nations. The Erie Canal dramatically reduced transport costs, opened up the western territories to settlement, and spurred national and international trade routes. The Bridgewater Canal in England, built in 1760, was only ten miles long, but it included a 38-foot-high bridge that dramatically cut coal transport costs and led to a canal building boom in England. In contrast, Spain’s decision not to build canals contributed to the nation’s economic struggles in the nineteenth century. The impact of canals throughout history highlights the significant contribution to technological innovation and the central force of trade routes to human history.

Connecting the Eastern Seaboard

The book summary describes the vision of early American leaders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to connect the Eastern Seaboard with the western territories via canals. Cadwallader Colden, a surveyor, was one of the first to envision a canal connecting the Hudson River and Lake Erie in 1724. Despite his vision, the canal wasn’t constructed until half a century after his death. Washington also attempted to build the Potowmack Canal Company that would turn the Potomac into a navigable canal. However, the company failed due to the river’s steep rapids, shallow, stony sections, and a shortage of reliable workers. Both Washington and Jefferson feared that if the western territories remained unlinked to the Eastern states, the United States’s borders would end at the Appalachians. The summary concludes that “canals were the origin of networking in the fullest sense.”

The Erie Canal – A Triumph Amid Political Battles and Skepticism

The Erie Canal, a 363-mile waterway, was built with public funds and faced fierce political opposition from supporters of a competing route. The canal’s main backer was New York politician De Witt Clinton, while the federal government rejected proposals for funding. The canal’s construction was vital, as transporting goods by wagon was slow and costly. Despite skepticism, the canal went on to revolutionize transportation in America, generating over $121 million in revenue.

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