The earliest travel by inland waterway appears to have been in France and England on packet or narrow boats as early as the 1700s. The first were pulled by horses ambling along paths paralleling the canal. When the first steam engines came along, self propulsion allowed more boats to safely pass slower boats or boats tied up for the night. British and French engineers were the first to invent sophisticated and varied “locks” to transit up and down hills. Some canals crossed rivers and other canals by bridges filled with water flowing atop the bridges.
When President Thomas Jefferson signed into law legislation founding the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY., the first formal engineering school in the nation came into being in the early 1800s. At that time French inland waterway engineering was considered superior to British methods of canal construction. As a result, many of the West Point textbooks were written in French.
Today, in England and elsewhere, travel by canal boat is still desired by those who enjoy a slower pace and the chance to meet people of other cultures and traditions. And it still may be the cheapest way of traveling by far.