Industrial Development

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This photograph depicts the Solvay Process Industrial Plant in Solvay, New York. This plant was located on the Erie Canal, and this image shows lumber awaiting processing piled up on the Canal’s side. The rich natural resources of New York, including salt, lumber, and water were harnessed for many industrial purposes. Courtesy of Liverpool Public Library via Central New York Library Resources Council and Empire State Digital Network.

There was also tremendous growth in non-agricultural industries such as lumbering and quarrying, as the Canal made the rich natural resources of the interior more accessible. The Erie Canal helped facilitate access to coal reserves in Pennsylvania, reducing American dependence on imported coal (mainly from Britain). Commercial logging commenced in the 1830s with the opening of the Erie Canal and is still a mainstay industry for both the US and Canada. In all of these industries, the increase in the volume of trade encouraged the rise of corporations through which people pooled their capital for larger investments and returns.

Ironically, the Canal’s tremendous success led to the rise of its ultimate competitor: the railroad. The Canal indirectly encouraged the creation of, and investment in railroads by enhancing access to iron, steel, and coal. Unable to keep up with the volume of commerce, the feeder canals were eventually supplanted by small railroad companies. In 1853, the consolidation of the several smaller railroads led to the creation of the New York Central Railroad that would dominate passenger travel and commerce until after World War I.