NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Agricultural Improvements and Access to Rail Transportation: The American Midwest as a Test Case, 1850-1860

Jeremy Atack, Robert A. Margo

NBER Working Paper No. 15520
Issued in November 2009
NBER Program(s):   DAE

During the 1850s, land in U.S. farms surged by more than 100 million acres while almost 50 million acres of land were transformed from their raw, natural state into productive farmland. The time and expense of transforming this land into a productive 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 barely 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, we estimate that at least a quarter (and possibly two-thirds or more) of this increase can be linked directly to the coming of the railroad to the region. Farmers responded to the shrinking transportation wedge and rising revenue productivity by rapidly expanding the area under cultivation and these changes, in turn, drove rising farm and land values.

download in pdf format
   (200 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (200 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15520

Published: (with Margo), “ The Impact of Access to Rail Transportation on Agricultural Improvement: The American Midwest as a Test Case, 1850 - 1860 ,” Journal of Transportation and Land Use , 4: 2 (2011).

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Atack, Bateman, Haines, and Margo w14640 Did Railroads Induce or Follow Economic Growth? Urbanization and Population Growth in the American Midwest, 1850-60
Atack, Haines, and Margo w14410 Railroads and the Rise of the Factory: Evidence for the United States, 1850-70
Donaldson w16487 Railroads of the Raj: Estimating the Impact of Transportation Infrastructure
Atack, Bateman, and Margo w9923 Capital Deepening in American Manufacturing, 1850-1880
Haines and Margo w12381 Railroads and Local Economic Development: The United States in the 1850s
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us