U.S. Corps of Engineers (War Department)
The U.S. experienced a canal-building craze in the 1830s and 1840s after the opening of the highly successful Erie Canal, which connected New York’s Hudson River to Lake Erie in 1825.
This map illustrates the horizontal distance (270 miles) and vertical rise (210 feet) involved in creating a waterway from Green Bay to the Mississippi River. The map shows the many locks and dams already constructed along the Lower Fox River to Lake Winnebago. It was prepared as a report to Congress.
Wisconsin promoters of the Fox-Wisconsin waterway project sought federal land to finance their plans. The state ultimately received almost 70,000 acres to support construction of locks, dams and a canal at Portage. Congress donated a total of 820,000 acres of federal land to Wisconsin in support of the Fox-Wisconsin and the Rock River canals, both designed to connect Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River.
In 1856, a small steamer traveled from Prairie du Chien up the Wisconsin River through the Portage Canal and down the Fox to Green Bay. However, the Wisconsin River proved unnavigable for cargo vessels due to its shallow waters and shifting sandbars.
By 1858, two railroad lines also connected Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. The speed and convenience of railroads soon made the Fox-Wisconsin waterway obsolete.