The 1825 opening of the Erie Canal, which connected the Hudson River city of Albany with Buffalo on Lake Erie, greatly expanded commercial trade with New York City. Self-taught artist James Bard took advantage of the increasing number of Hudson River sailboats and steamships by creating thousands of detailed ship portraits. Bard's idealized images, often commissioned by ship owners, obscured the danger of travel in steamboats, which sometimes burned and sank when their overheated boilers exploded.
The paddle-wheel box of the Syracuse, which bears imagery of the sun rising behind modern factories, celebrates that city�s industry and prominent position on the Erie Canal, a gateway to the Great Lakes region of the Midwest. The Syracuse was owned by the Schuyler Steam Towboat Company, founded in 1825 by Samuel Schuyler (1781–1842), an African-American "free man of color" who bore the name of one of New York's oldest Dutch colonial families.