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Frontier farmers and the Atlantic economy: another look at the causes of the American grain invasion of Britainin the nineteenth century


  • Karl Gunnar Persson

    (University of Copenhagen)

  • Paul Sharp

    (University of Copenhagen)


"The usual explanation for the American grain invasion of Britain in the last decades of the nineteenth century is that falling transportation costs caused the price gap between the US and the UK to fall, causing US prices to rise, UK prices to fall, and thus causing US supply and UK demand to increase. This paper documents that this was not the case. Falling per mile transportation costs simply permitted an expansion of frontier farming in the US, while the total cost of transporting wheat from the US production areas to the UK, and the price received by the average farmer, remained constant. What this process did allow, however, was a massive increase in US output, which was then available to supply the booming demand in the UK. The grain invasion was therefore not a response to increasing prices by American farmers, who in reality offered a perfectly elastic supply at the going price as practically unlimited supplies of land in the west were populated by immigrants."

Suggested Citation

  • Karl Gunnar Persson & Paul Sharp, 2009. "Frontier farmers and the Atlantic economy: another look at the causes of the American grain invasion of Britainin the nineteenth century," Working Papers 9020, Economic History Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehs:wpaper:9020

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Murray R. Benedict, 1939. "Development of Agricultural Statistics in the Bureau of the Census," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 21(4), pages 735-760.
    2. Whaples, Robert, 1995. "Where Is There Consensus Among American Economic Historians? The Results of a Survey on Forty Propositions," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 55(1), pages 139-154, March.
    3. Unknown, 1934. "Decline and Recovery of Wheat Prices in the 'Nineties," Wheat Studies, Stanford University, Food Research Institute, vol. 10(08-09), pages 1-64, June.
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    More about this item


    Grain invasion; wheat; globalization;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C5 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling
    • F1 - International Economics - - Trade
    • N7 - Economic History - - Economic History: Transport, International and Domestic Trade, Energy, and Other Services


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