In its day, the famous Erie Canal was the world's longest canal and America's greatest engineering feat. It was the principal route for emigrants from the East and agricultural products from the West. Before construction of the canal, New York City was the nation's fifth largest seaport, behind Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Within 15 years of its opening, New York was the busiest port in America, moving tonnages greater than Boston, Baltimore and New Orleans combined.
In 1817 when construction started, excavating and earthmoving machines had not yet been invented. The only construction equipment available was the pick, level, spade, wheelbarrow, and wagon. With the exception of a few uses of black powder to blast through rock formations, all 363 miles were built by men and horses alone.