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Home-work: Educational Activities from the NYSM that You Can Do from Home!

The Erie Canal and the Power of Simple Machines

The Erie Canal directed the course of New York and American history. When it opened in 1825, this “boldest and biggest American engineering project of its century” unlocked the Western interior for trade and settlement. Boomtowns sprang up along the canal’s path and New York City, with its deep harbor connecting to the Hudson River, grew to be the nation’s most powerful center of international trade.

The American engineering that created that canal was done before any engineering schools existed in New York. These problem solvers used the science of simple machines to design and construct the Erie Canal. A simple machine is a basic device for applying force; they have few moving parts but allow us to do more work with less effort. Simple machines include: lever, pulley, wheel and axel, screw, wedge, and inclined planes.

We challenge you to find a simple machine around your house! Some examples to get you started include a wheelbarrow, shovel, fork, elevator, blinds, bicycle, and wagon.

ACTIVITY: Make your own simple machine!
Create a ramp to move a heavy book up stairs! Try a wheel and axel to help you move a book across a flat surface by lining up rounded pencils and pushing the book on top. Check out more simple machine projects for kids, collected by Museum Instructor Kat Morehouse here:…/

To learn more about the history of the Erie Canal check out this video featuring NYSM curator Brad Utter: or primary sources from the NYS Archives…/primary-source-sets-erie-ca….

If you like history and music, you’ll love learning about the Erie Canal with Dave Ruch! Learn more about the myths and music of the canal on his website