Construction on the canal began in 1836 although it was stopped for several years due to a state fiscal crisis. The Canal Commission had a grant of 284,000 acres of federal land which it sold at $1.25 per acre to finance the construction. Still money had to be borrowed from eastern U.S. and English investors to finish the canal.
The canal was 60 feet wide and six feet deep. It had fifteen locks and one aqueduct to cover the 140 foot height difference between the Illinois and Chicago Rivers. From 1848-1854 the canal was a popular passenger route but this ended with the opening of a railroad in 1854 parallel to the canal. The canal had its peak shipping year in 1882 and remained in use until after World War I. It was replaced by the Illinois Waterway[?] in 1933 which remains in use.
In 1871, the direction of the Chicago River was reversed by the Army Corps of Engineers with the result that the river and much of Chicago's sewage flowed into the canal instead of into Lake Michigan.
Today much of the canal is a long, thin park with canoeing and a 61 mile long hiking/biking trail. It also includes museums and historical canal buildings.