April 10, 1848
The Illinois and Michigan (I&M) Canal was first opened to navigation when the freight boat General Fry traveled northwest along the recently completed route from the town of Lockport to the then-small city of Chicago. While the formal dedication of the I&M Canal would not take place until six days later, the journey of the waterway’s first vessel generated its own high proportion of crowds and fanfare.
People gathered along the canal to cheer on General Fry, which was filled with passengers and decorated with flags. The tugboat A. Rossiter, carrying her own full load of passengers, met General Fry by early that evening to tow the freight boat through the section of the canal coursing through Chicago.
“As the boats passed through the city they were greeted with cheering, which was renewed at the different bridges, and points at which the citizens were collected,” reported the Chicago Daily Democrat newspaper. “Altogether there was considerable excitement in the city, and all appeared rejoiced at the realization of the long-promised event – the opening of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.”
In its early years, the canal proved to be pivotal to the growth and prosperity of that region. The I&M Canal connected Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River via the Illinois River and served as the last crucial link to an extensive water route stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Eastern Seaboard. The canal was also instrumental in transforming Chicago from what had essentially been just a fur-trading outpost and a small military garrison to a major American city, commerce center, and transportation hub. The canal helped attract railroads and other key industries to Chicago and in the process also expanded the city’s population, which rose from 20,000 in 1848 to 75,000 in 1854.
For more information on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illinois_and_Michigan_Canal