Academic journal article Technology and Engineering Teacher

Canals: Efficiently Moving Goods and People

Academic journal article Technology and Engineering Teacher

Canals: Efficiently Moving Goods and People

Article excerpt

People have had the need to move natural resources and products since they first established settlements. Many early settlements were founded at the mouths of rivers or in coastal areas where natural inlets (ports) existed. These ports served as routes to access the interiors of nations as well as nations abroad. Prior to the existence of canals and later technological developments such as railroads and trucks, animal-drawn wagons were used to transport material goods to and from the interiors of nations. The shortcoming of this means of conveyance was that wagons could carry only small loads, approximately two tons (Boardman, 1959), where roads existed. However, boats and ships could carry larger cargos. Since water can provide a more efficient method of transportation, nations began to build canals so watermen could better navigate rivers (such as around shallow depths or dangerous rapids) and to create waterways that would connect rivers to lakes and increase the distance cargos could be moved inland by water. Today, canals continue to provide an important link in our worldwide transportation system.

A canal is an artificial waterway that is long, narrow, and dug into the earth to allow boats, ships, and barges passage. Until steam shovels were invented in the mid-1800s, picks, shovels, plows, scrapers, and wheelbarrows were the tools used to dig canals. Considering this rudimentary form of technology, it is remarkable how much time and how many people were required to dig canals. The Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea in the Middle East, took 10 years to construct. It was 105 miles long, 26 feet deep, 177 feet wide at the surface, and took $100,000,000 to complete in 1869 (Boardman, 1959). Today this waterway is used for passage of cargo ships carrying oil and other products as well as for military ship movement.

Historians report that canals also existed in China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Italy in the era B.C. Other famous canals were built in Venice, Italy and throughout The Netherlands to provide drainage to restore low land and provide for the transport of commerce. Coastal communities were built in the 20th century using canal systems both for drainage and as marketing techniques to appeal to those who sought waterfront property, including cities like Ft. Lauderdale and Ft. Myers, FL and Venice, CA in the U.S. and Surfer's Paradise, Australia.

Canals have been developed throughout Europe to ease the transport of natural resources and finished products. As an example, in Delft, The Netherlands (where Delft china is manufactured and then sold around the world), boats would bring the clay into manufacturing plants via canals, and the finished china was then distributed to markets by water, since less breakage would occur via water than by delivery over bumpy roads on carriages. Many rivers were connected through canals. The Rhine River is a major waterway in Germany and The Netherlands. It was connected to Berlin via canal, thus allowing access to the sea from the interior of these countries. Canal systems were also developed throughout France, Belgium, Austria, Scotland, Sweden, and other European countries.

Canals in England were very important to the Industrial Revolution. Factories needed coal, ores, clay, cotton, and other raw materials to produce industrial and consumer products. Since trains did not yet exist, it was found that constructing canals allowed for the efficient transportation of bulk raw materials to factories and allowed finished products to be delivered to cities along these and other waterways. From approximately 1750 to 1950, England was arguably the industrial center of the world. The region around Manchester and Liverpool in Central England (Midlands) was the home to many mines and factories. Because of the efficiency of canal transport, early entrepreneurs and civil engineers built canals to move goods. For example, the Trent and Mersey Canal was built between 1766-1777 and crossed England from east to west. …

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