January 28, 1911: Commission declares a canal from Lake Superior to the Mississippi is feasible

On this day 150 miles south of Duluth in 1911, a commission in St. Paul assembled by Minnesota Governor John A. Johnson in 1909 declared that the idea of building a canal from Lake Superior to the Mississippi River was a feasible project . The report went on to request $15,000 for a survey of the upper Mississippi River to Sandy Lake, $5,000 to remove logs impeding navigation at Little Falls, and for the creation of a “Lake Superior and Upper Mississippi River transportation and improvement fund.” The idea had been floating about since 1872, when the U.S. Senate’s Windom committee first claimed that “the most feasible channel of commerce to be created or improved by the national government were the Mississippi and a continuous water line from the Mississippi to New York by way of the northern lakes.” The notion was raised and dropped many times over the years, but began picking up steam in 1907 when the Upper Mississippi Improvement Club met in Moline, Illinois, and at their 1908 convention in Clinton, Iowa. The 1911 Minnesota effort did not involve any Duluthians—there were none on the committee. Duluth enjoyed its Minnesota monopoly as the gateway to the great lakes and wasn’t about to compromise it with a waterway that would benefit points south. The Zenith City was already a national hub of rail and ship traffic, and such a canal would allow others to bypass the port, taking goods—and potential profits—much further south. The plan, obviously, was never seen through.

One Response to January 28, 1911: Commission declares a canal from Lake Superior to the Mississippi is feasible

  1. Regarding a connection between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes to allow commerce between the Mississippi River and New York — a connection already existed at this time and should also be considered a factor in the lack of interest in a St.Paul to Duluth canal.

    The Illinois and Michigan canal was completed in 1848 allowing commerce to flow between the navigable Illinois River (which flows into the Mississippi north of St Louis) and Lake Michigan. This canal pre-dated the build-up of the railroads in Chicago and launched Chicago towards immense growth and status as the transportation hub of the country. This canal’s function was largely replaced by the wider and shorter Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1900, and it ceased transportation operations with the completion of the Illinois Waterway in 1933.

    Also, in 1907 another canal was completed between the Mississippi (at Rock Island, IL) and the Illinois River (near Hennepin, IL) which shortened the travel distance to Lake Michigan from the upper Mississippi. This canal was called the Illinois and Mississippi Canal (later called Hennepin Canal). This canal was obsolete the day it was completed due to railroad competition and the fact that the Corps of Engineers had recently widened locks on both the Mississippi and Illinois rivers to 20-40 feet wider than the I&M Canal. However, despite the obsolence, all was not lost. Many of the engineering innovations used in building this canal were later applied to the building of the Panama Canal.

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