Early Chicago, 1833–1871
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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July 20, 1857

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On July 14, 1857, the ship Madeira Pet arrived in Chicago directly from Liverpool, England. The trip had taken eighty days. It was a 123-ton schooner which was considered small. Its cargo consisted of a mix of crockery, china, glassware, white lead, paints, guns, and hardware. This was the first ship to arrive directly in Chicago from the ocean and it was greeted with much fanfare. It departed on August 5, with a load of 3,000 hides.

At this time there were only three water routes by which a small ship could have reached Chicago from the ocean. The Illinois and Michigan Canal, which was completed in 1848 and which connected the Illinois River with Lake Michigan at Chicago, could have allowed a small vessel to proceed from the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi River, up the Illinois River, and through the canal to Chicago. The Erie Canal had been completed in 1825. It connected the Hudson River with Lake Erie south of Niagara Falls at Buffalo. Thus a small vessel could have proceeded from the Atlantic, up the Hudson River, across the Erie Canal to Buffalo, and across Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan, to Chicago. The last possible route was by way of the Welland Canal which had been completed in 1829 and which allowed passage from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie around the falls. By 1848, this canal had been deepened and augmented by a series of canals bypassing all the St. Lawrence rapids. A ship could pass from the Atlantic Ocean into St. Lawrence Bay, into the St. Lawrence River, into Lake Ontario, through the Welland Canal, into Lake Erie, into Lake Huron, into Lake Michigan, and into Chicago. This third route was the one the Madeira Pet had taken.

Between 1815 and 1860 canal construction costs totaled around $195 million in the United States and over seventy percent had been financed by federal or state monies. By the end of the Civil War the railroad had won out due to its speed, lack of regard for the weather, cost of construction, ability to traverse difficult terrain, and ability to deliver goods from the sender's door to that of the receiver.

Points to Consider

Why was the arrival of the Madeira Pet considered a cause for celebration?

How large a vessel could it have been?

By which route did it actually arrive?

By which three waterways could it have reached Chicago directly from Liverpool in 1857?

See Related Document:

6, 7, 8, 16, and 29

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