‘America’s venture into the unknown’ shows how large-scale engineering endeavours were delivered, often very successfully, long before the formal tools, language, and discipline of project management were available. It describes the Erie Canal project, America’s most ambitious and largest engineering project of the early 19th century to create the world’s largest inland waterway connecting New York with Lake Erie. Despite numerous obstacles, the project was completed on time, close to the original cost estimate. The project created knowledge where no such capability existed before and where many unknown conditions would have to be faced and overcome. It became its own school of engineering and a training ground for project managers. It was the key to America’s industrial future.