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Portage: Path Dependence and Increasing Returns in U.S. History

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  • Hoyt Bleakley
  • Jeffrey Lin

Abstract

We examine portage sites in the U.S. South, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest, including those on the fall line, a geomorphologic feature in the southeastern U.S. marking the final rapids on rivers before the ocean. Historically, waterborne transport of goods required portage around the falls at these points, while some falls provided water power during early industrialization. These factors attracted commerce and manufacturing. Although these original advantages have long since been made obsolete, we document the continuing--and even increasing--importance of these portage sites over time. We interpret this finding in a model with path dependence arising from local increasing returns to scale.

Suggested Citation

  • Hoyt Bleakley & Jeffrey Lin, 2010. "Portage: Path Dependence and Increasing Returns in U.S. History," NBER Working Papers 16314, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16314
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    1. Esteban Rossi-Hansberg & Mark L. J. Wright, 2007. "Urban Structure and Growth," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 74(2), pages 597-624.
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    JEL classification:

    • F1 - International Economics - - Trade
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • N9 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History
    • R1 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics

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    1. Historical Economic Geography

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