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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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  • Robert A. Margo

    ()
    (Department of Economics, Boston University.)

  • Jeremy Atack

    ()
    (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University and NBER)

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 GISbased 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

Paper provided by Boston University - Department of Economics in its series Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series with number WP2010-026.

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Length: 34 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bos:wpaper:wp2010-026

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References

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  1. Feng Xie & David Levinson, 2010. "How streetcars shaped suburbanization: a Granger causality analysis of land use and transit in the Twin Cities," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 10(3), pages 453-470, May.
  2. Card, David & Krueger, Alan B, 1994. "Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 772-93, September.
  3. 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.
  4. David Levinson, 2008. "Density and dispersion: the co-development of land use and rail in London," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(1), pages 55-77, January.
  5. 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.
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Cited by:
  1. 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.
  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. Dave Donaldson & Richard Hornbeck, 2013. "Railroads and American Economic Growth: A “Market Access” Approach," NBER Working Papers 19213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. 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.

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