The Ostródzko-Elbląski channel also frequently referred to as “Elbląski” is a unique hydro-technical solution and system which connects Western-Masurian (Oberland) lakes with the Vistula Reservoir. The uniqueness of the system is connected to the almost 100m difference in levels vertically which is present in the region and to the need of travelling between the reservoirs of such drastically various heights above the level of the sea with the application of 5 slides. The latter ones are mechanical powered with the application of the power of water rail slide hoisting devices. This worldwide class marble of hydro-technical engineering has been designed by the Prussian engineer George Jacob Steenke in the second quarter of the 19th century during the reign of the king Frederic Wilhelm III and erected during the rule of Frederic Wilhelm IV, for the needs of economical water connection of the Eastern Prussia with the Baltic Sea. The channel awaited for the initiation of construction works a significant number of years finally to see the start of the works in 1844.
Much shorter hence only 8 years lasted the construction of the section connecting all Oberland lakes with the location where the channel slides begin. From 1852 between Iława and Karczemka there started to commute a steam boat owned by the ship owner from Iława “Reederei Kardinal” later followed by the steam boat owned by the company of “Reederei Matzmor” (“Martha” and “Ernst” propeller steam boats). Another ship owner from Zalewo – Munter possessed at his disposal the ship of “Ursula”. Two locks: „Zielona” (Green) and „Miłomłyn” were passed over for exploitation already in 1849 and since then the sailing path connects Iława and Zalewo with Miłomłyn and Ostróda.
The section between Elbląg and Ostróda was officially opened at the end of August 1860 along with the passing over for exploitation of the last, at the time, slide located in Buczyniec, hence it also possible to come across information that the first steam boat reached Ostróda from Miłomłyn already in 1856. The last section of the system of channels leading from Ostróda to Stare Jabłonki through Pauzeńskie lake as well as through the lakes of Szeląg Wielki and Szeląg Mały were completed somewhere about 1873. Almost parallel opening of the competitive railroad line (in 1872) has contributed to the weakening of the economical meaning of the channel. Initially it was mainly used for the transport of agricultural products, wood as well as various industrial products, nevertheless starting from 1912 the channel also performs tourist functions.
Apart from the transport of wood, transport was executed amongst others with the application of barges manufactured in the Elbląg shipyard “Schichau-Werft” as well as ships of the Water Construction Office in Ostróda (German ”Wasserbauamt”): steam boats “Steenke”, “Röthloff” as well as motor tugboat of “Osterode”. The later ship owner (born in 1888 in Siemiany) i.e. Adolf Tetzlaff sailed upon the ships. Apart from economical transport, in 1912 his sail company “Schiffs – Reederei Adolf Tetzlaff” initiated tourist cruises in a water boat under the name of “Water Lily” (German “Seerose”). Until 1927 Tetzlaff’s tourist fleet has been extended with the ship of “Herta” (1914) and a tourist vessel “Heini” (1925). Following 1927 the ship of “Konrad” constructed in Elblag shipyard began regular tourist cruises upon the route of Ostróda-Elbląg.
World War II inflicted significant damage to the technical devices of the channel. At the initiative of Zygmunt Mianowicz and with the help of A. Tetzlaff the channel was made passable in again in 1947, upon which a year later Żegluga Gdańska initiated regular passenger cruises.
In the mid 1970s all vessels were taken over by the Żegluga Mazurska in Giżycko and from the beginning of the1990s the role of the ship owner was performed by self-government Municipal Transport Company in Ostróda. From 2011 the company of Żegluga Ostródzko-Elbląska Sp. z o.o. in the city of Ostróda (The Ostróda-Elbląg Ship Transport Company Ltd.) performs the role of the ship owner. Also in 2011 with the Decree of the President of the Republic of Poland Elbląski channel has been elevated to the role of the Historical Monument.