The Port of Erie lies on the southeastern shores of Lake Erie in northwestern Pennsylvania in the United States. The Port of Erie is about 140 kilometers southwest of the Port of Buffalo (New York) and about 150 kilometers east-northeast of the Port of Cleveland (Ohio), two other major ports on Lake Erie. The Port of Erie is the seat of Erie County and the State's only port on the Great Lakes. In 2000, the Port of Erie was home to over 103 thousand people, and more than 280 thousand called the metropolitan area home.
The city is home to a diverse manufacturing community that makes locomotives, electrical equipment, plastics, machinery and metal products, hospital equipment, chemicals, paper, and rubber products. Being Pennsylvania's only port on the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Port of Erie is in a strategic location for the transport of coke, steel, iron ore, stone, salt, and scrap metal.
Before it was the Port of Erie, the Seneca Nation and the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy inhabited the area. In 1753, Fort Presque Isle was built by the French near modern Erie to protect New France from the encroaching British colonists. The French left Fort Presque Isle in 1760, and the British moved in the same year, three years before the Seven Years' War ended.
For a time, the patch of land on which the Port of Erie rests was claimed by the States of Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The United States government sold the land to Pennsylvania after the other states withdrew their claims.
In 1789, the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy sold their land for $2 thousand from the State and $1.2 thousand from the federal government. The Seneca Nation settled their claims for land against Pennsylvania in 1971 for $800. People from the new United States began to settle the area in 1795 when Colonel Seth Reed and family moved to the Port of Erie from Geneva, New York.
The British controlled Lake Erie during the early part of the War of 1812. To undermine that control, President James Madison had a naval fleet constructed at the Port of Erie, and four schooner-rigged gunboats and two brigs were made. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry led the squadron in the Battle of Lake Erie which won control of the Lake for the United States.
In addition to the port, the Port of Erie was a major hub for railroads in the 19th Century. However, the track gauges were not the same, and commerce and travel were slowed by the transfer of people and goods from one line to another. Despite the inconvenience, this service provided many jobs for Port of Erie residents. When the national standard gauge was proposed, the citizens of Erie engaged in riots that are now called the Erie Gauge War.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, the Port of Erie's importance was fading as the golden era of trade and commercial fishing at Lake Erie diminished. However, the city compensated for this loss with the growth of industry and manufacturing in the region. The Port of Erie's downtown district continued to grow throughout the 20th Century.
As the Port of Erie entered modern times, it fell victim to the nationwide movement to suburbs. What was once a center for heavy manufacturing has shrunk to a limited industrial sector. Although the Port of Erie of the 21 Century has a more diverse economy, it is also focusing on tourism as a major contributor to the local economy. Over four million visitors come to Presque Isle State Park every year to enjoy the water and visit the new casino.