Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering, & Technology
Back to the LHL Home Page | Back to the Exhibitions Home Page

Leonardo's Miter Gate
Languedoc Canal
Caledonian Canal
Panama Canal Zone

The Caledonian Canal

Commissioners' Report
French view 

Centuries of Civil Engineering

Report of the Commissioners of the Caledonian Canal.
London, 1804-1870.
Water Supply
Image Index

There were excellent reasons for building a canal across Scotland in 1800. The declining economy needed the boost a canal promised, and English ships needed a safe passage from one side of Britain to the other without being chased by Napoleon's ships. The English civil engineer Thomas Telford, renowned for his elegant and graceful engineering projects, was at the height of his fame. Not surprisingly, his report on the practicality of the canal was well received by the Commissioners in 1802. The ambitious scheme was massive in scale, calling for a ship canal, not a narrow barge canal, through the Scottish Highlands and incorporating the famous Loch Ness. The scale of the enterprise – the machinery, the work force, the quantity of rock and earth to move – made the Caledonian Canal a remarkable engineering feat by any standard. The canal includes 29 locks that were built as proposed, but little else went as planned. When it was completed in 1822, the cost was over three times the estimate and it could not take the larger ships that were expected to bolster the Scottish economy. In the Highland Mountain passage, the canal became a wind tunnel that held ships up for days, so that it was often easier to sail around the coast of Scotland than to take a chance in the canal. Still, the canal was and is considered an engineering triumph.


Home Credits Order Brochure
Copyright©2002 Linda Hall Library, 5109 Cherry St., Kansas City, Missouri 64110-2498 USA. (816) 363-4600.  If you have questions or comments about this site, send mail to the exhibition curator or to webmaster.  For reference questions, send mail to Reference or to the exhibition curator.  Most recent site update: October 28, 2002