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Activity #3 From Farm to Market — Effects of Transportation Developments on NY's Farms
The first half of the nineteenth century marked an incredible transformation in transportation in New York State. These developments in transportation had a significant impact on New York's farmers. At the turn of the century farmers transported their goods to market in wagons and carts drawn by horses and oxen along dirt roadways. Shortly after 1807, steamboats began operation on the Hudson River transporting goods from Albany to New York City. Sailboats required four days to travel from Albany to New York City. Steamboats cut the transportation time by one-third, making the trip in only 32 hours.

Unfortunately, farmers headed to the eastern markets from the western part of the state still had to rely upon roads, which turned to mud in bad weather. This changed in 1825 with the opening of the Erie Canal. The canal opened a route for farmers in western New York to send their products to the eastern markets. In return they could buy manufactured goods from the east. Sending goods on canal barges was much cheaper and quicker than transporting goods in wagons. Before the canal, it cost $100 and took 20 days to transport 1 ton of goods from Buffalo to New York City. With the opening of the canal, that same ton of freight could travel from Buffalo to Albany and then down the Hudson River to New York City in 6 days at a cost between $5-10.

Railroads rounded out the nineteenth-century transportation boom. By the 1840's trains were transporting goods across New York State in half the time of canal boat travel. In addition, trains could travel in the winter when the canal waters were frozen.

Today, studies estimate that the average distance from field to market is 1,500 miles.

  • Farmers relied upon three main forms of transportation to get their goods to market. Students will review documents for land (wagon), canal, and railroad freight transport and answer the accompanying questions.

    Questions for discussion:
    • How did advances in transportation such as the Erie Canal, and the advent of steam ships and railroads, impact farmers? Consider the costs to the farmer and customer which occurred with expanded distribution and increased availability of crops in the market.
    • Looking at the canal Rates of Toll 1875, do you think that they were shipping wheat and flour to or from the west?