Date of Award
Bachelor of Science
At the present day it is a difficult matter to decide who introduced the subject to public attention. If we are rightly informed, David Rittenhouse, the renowned astronomer and philosopher, and Dr. William Smith, provost of the University of Pennsylvania were the first persons to work in this matter. Afterwards, Robert Morris, the great financier of the Revolution; and still later Robert Fulton, of steamboat fame, lent their assistance. These men, as I said before, brought the idea of building the canal before the eyes of the public at large, and did all in their power to leave the canal constructed. But the idea was not an original one with any of the above named gentlemen. For we find that William Penn, in his project for a second settlement in Penna., published in the year 1690, alludes to the practicability "effecting a communication by water between the Schuylkill and Susquehanna rivers." We must not forget the fact that canals were unknown even in Great Britain at that time. The U.S. is indebted to the state of Penna. for the first introduction of canals to public attention. "In 1762 David Rittenhouse and Dr. William Smith, surveyed and leveled a route for a canal to join Schuylkill and Susquehanna rivers by means of the Swatara and Tulpehocken creeks". The "Union" canal of to day passes over a part of this old route, which by the way, was the first actual location ever made for a canal in the thirteen original colonies. The projectors of this piece of engineering contemplated a junction of the Eastern and western waters of Lake Erie and of the Ohio River with the Delaware River, over a route about 582 miles in length. Think of it, way back in 1764; why the very term "engineering" was never heard in those days. No wonder this scheme seemed absurd to the majority of the plain and unpretentious old folks of those times; and such a thing as moneyed capital was out of the question altogether. Still these men continued their work amid the sneers of many people. About 1769 the provincial legislature authorized a survey on a route of 582 miles, to Pittsburgh and Lake Erie. This survey was made & a report tendered recommending the execution of the work. But about this time the Revolutionary War broke out, and of course the attention of everybody was directed toward the war. This report being "laid on the table" before the war, & of course not yet adopted, was "taken up" on the 29th of Sept. 1791 and adopted. The legislature, at the same time, incorporated "a company to connect the Susquehanna and Schuylkill by a canal and slack water navigation". Among the very first commissioners were Robert Morris, David Rittenhouse, William Smith and Tench Francis.
Millholland, Paul D., "Construction, Operation and Decay of the Union Canal" (1886). Undergraduate Honors Theses and Capstone Projects. 6.