During the 1850s, the amount of farmland in the United States increased by 40 million hectares (100 million acres), or more than one-third. Moreover, almost 20 million hectares, 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 constituted 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 an increase in farm and land values.
Atack, Jeremy; Margo, Robert.
The impact of access to rail transportation on agricultural improvement: The American Midwest as a test case, 1850–1860.
Journal of Transport and Land Use.
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