Today, the Illinois and Michigan State Quarter Coins help remember the feats of engineering and the activities of 167 years ago.
In April 1848, the Illinois and Michigan canal first opened for river traffic.
The Ottawa (Illinois) Free Press newspaper printed several articles that April:
The sparkling lakes of the north and the father of waters have kissed, embraced, and are united! The nuptials took place at Chicago last Monday.
They were celebrated by the firing of a hundred guns, and the joyous acclamations of ten thousand citizens. It was a bright and glorious day for Illinois.
This great object which was the dream of her infancy, the struggle of her youth, and will be the pride and boast of her manhood, is, at length, after years of toil, difficulty, and tribulation, accomplished.
The canal is open, the first boat has floated upon its waters, and in a few days more the boatman’s horn will be a familiar sound to our ears.
How long have we not ached to announce this joyful event! How important—how cheering for Illinois will be its consequences!
The Canal boat General Fry left above one Tuesday for this place, and the Diamond on Wednesday. Neither of them has yet got along.
The General Thornton, a splendid line boat, built at Peru, passed up on Wednesday, and the Colonel Yell, an Ohio keel, owned by Walker & Hickling, of this place, came up last evening.
Water has hitherto been rather scarce, but we understand the Kankakee feeder was opened yesterday so that there will now be water enough for extensive operations.
First Boat Through
The “General Thornton,” one of Hardy’s line of freight boats, built at La Salle, commanded by Captain F. G. Mills, has the distinction of being the first boat through the entire length of the canal, from Peru to Chicago.
The Thornton reached Chicago on Saturday. She made the trip in three days.
The “Industry,” another boat of the same line, passed up on Sunday. The Colonel Yell left here for above on Wednesday, with a full cargo, and the Trader left yesterday.
There have been other boats started up, the names of which we have not heard.
The St. Louis, the first upon the canal of the splendid line of packets for carrying passengers between Chicago and La Salle, passed here last evening. The Chicago is expected today and the New Orleans tomorrow.
The line consists of five boats. The Chicago, Captain Nobles; the St. Louis, Captain Wiggins; the New Orleans, Captain Wheeler; the Illinois, Captain Woodruff; and the Louisiana, the name of whose captain we have not learned.
All these boats are now ready for the water and have commenced their regular trips.
They will form a daily line, and the arrangements are such that there will be a boat in waiting for passengers at either end of the line.
The boats are unsurpassed in outward appearance and interior arrangements for the comfort of passengers.
The canal formed a pathway from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan.
The engineering and construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal was contained within the state of Illinois.
However, the connection between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan opened trade routes to the east via the waterway to more businesses.
With the canal, people of the mid west could obtain the same goods as the more populated eastern seaboard and also had a route to European trade.
The Illinois State Quarter Coin for the canal and the Michigan State Quarter Coin for Lake Michigan show against an 1859 view of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.