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The Impact of Access to Rail Transportation on Agricultural Improvement: The American Midwest as a Test Case, 1850-1860

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Author Info

  • Atack, Jeremy

    ()
    (Vanderbilt University)

  • Margo, Robert

    ()
    (Boston University)

Abstract

During the 1850s, land in U.S. farms increased by more than a third—100 million acres—and almost 50 million acres, an area almost equal to that of the states of Indiana and Ohio combined, were converted from their raw, natural state into productive farmland. The time and expense of transforming this land into a productive agricultural resource represented a significant fraction of domestic capital formation at the time and was an important contributor to American economic growth. Even more impressive, however, was the fact that almost half of these total net additions to cropland occurred in just seven Midwestern states which comprised somewhat less than one-eighth of the land area of the country at that time. Using a new GIS-based transportation database linked to county-level census data, we estimate that at least a quarter (and possibly two-thirds or more) of this increase in cultivable land can be linked directly to the coming of the railroad to the Midwest. Farmers responded to the shrinking transportation wedge which raised agricultural revenue productivity by rapidly expanding the area under cultivation and these changes, in turn, drove rising farm and land values.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Center for Transportation Studies, University of Minnesota in its journal The Journal of Transport and Land Use.

Volume (Year): 4 (2011)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 5-18

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Handle: RePEc:ris:jtralu:0061

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Related research

Keywords: Railroads; Development; Midwest; Nineteenth century; Networks; Agriculture; Density;

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References

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  1. Feng Xie & David Levinson, 2008. "How Streetcars Shaped Suburbanization: A Granger-Casality Analysis of Land Use and Transit in The Twin Cities," Working Papers 201003, University of Minnesota: Nexus Research Group.
  2. David Levinson, 2007. "Density and Dispersion: The Co-Development of Land use and Rail in London," Working Papers 200801, University of Minnesota: Nexus Research Group.
  3. Primack, Martin L., 1962. "Land Clearing Under Nineteenth-Century Techniques: Some Preliminary Calculations," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 22(04), pages 484-497, December.
  4. Jeremy Atack & Fred Bateman & Michael Haines & Robert A. Margo, 2009. "Did Railroads Induce or Follow Economic Growth? Urbanization and Population Growth in the American Midwest, 1850-60," NBER Working Papers 14640, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Jeremy Atack & Matthew S. Jaremski & Peter L. Rousseau, 2014. "Did Railroads Make Antebellum U.S. Banks More Sound?," NBER Working Papers 20032, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. William J. Collins & Robert A. Margo, 2014. "Introduction to "Enterprising America: Businesses, Banks, and Credit Markets in Historical Perspective"," NBER Chapters, in: Enterprising America: Businesses, Banks, and Credit Markets in Historical Perspective National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Berger, Thor & Enflo, Kerstin, 2014. "Locomotives of Local Growth: The Short- and Long-Term Impact of Railroads in Sweden," Lund Papers in Economic History 132, Department of Economic History, Lund University.
  4. Dave Donaldson & Richard Hornbeck, 2013. "Railroads and American Economic Growth: A “Market Access” Approach," NBER Working Papers 19213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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