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

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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File URL: http://www.jtlu.org/index.php/jtlu/article/view/188/174
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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
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.jtlu.org/index.php/jtlu

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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. 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.
  3. David Card & Alan B. Krueger, 1993. "Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania," NBER Working Papers 4509, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  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," Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series dp-178, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  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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  1. Historical Economic Geography

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