The first inland waterway in America was the canal built at Ipswich, Mass., in 1636. All other waterways were built with private or state funds through a variety of schemes, including the use of a lottery, for two centuries more until the 1850’s. Constitutional constraints still prohibited Congress from financing canal construction. Still, Congress freely financed surveying projects throughout the country for national defense purposes.
Eventually, reliance upon the Constitution’s ‘Commerce Clause’ emboldened Congress to engage in matching funds with the states and outright grants of smaller projects such as the minuscule Haulover Canal at Titusville in 1852 for a total of $1,200.
Just before the outbreak of the Civil War, Congress begrudgingly bought stock in private canal stock companies and engaged in a number of indirect methods to assist canal companies just as the railroad came into wider use as a faster and more economical means of transporting fruits, vegetables and other perishables as well as iron ore, lumber, and oil.