In the last post we spoke about the history of agriculture in the United States of America. Specifically, we spoke about the history of agriculture in the United States during the colonial periods. In this post we shall be talking about the New Nation (1776-1860) and Railroad Age (1860-1910). As discussed in the previous post, the economy and trade for agriculture and its good became increasingly in demand. During the New Nation period, the United States economy primarily became agricultural. The expansion of land and the building of canals, along with the addition and introduction of steamboats had opened up new areas and possibilities for agriculture for farmers. Although the primary focus on farming and agriculture within this time period was designed to produce food for families, it was also focused on for service and small local markets. However, this allows rapid economic growth, and a farmer could easily expand due to being able to improve the land for far more than it was paid for, and then moving further and further west and repeating the process. This allowed them to not only grow in terms of geographical size, but also allowed them to sell more and more products due to a higher output.
The railroad age brought a dramatic expansion in farming however, with the number of farms tripling in the space of 50 years from 2 million to 6 million. By about 1905, there were 6 million farms with roughly 31 million people living on those lands. Even the values of the farms tripled, from $8 billion to $30 billion in 1906. Because the government had issued 60 tracts so cheaply to 400,000 families in 1862, more than just those families were buying lands from the railroad companies. It was a genius way to create markets around the United States, and many from around Europe flocked to fill that land. The majority came from Germany, attracted by the soil, low priced lands that were available and homes that were offered.
Life however wasn’t as easy as some as it was for others. Rural life was very different for the settlers in the Great Plains. While it wasn’t the desert it was made out to be, it did contain a very rough climate with the amount or tornados, blizzards and floods. Even the amount of grasshoppers were a negative since they damaged crop, ruining entire harvests completely. This meant that these early settlers became financially ruined, and many went back home to Europe. This meant that the same government responsible for the influx then had to create steps for insurance to the new migrant workers in the form of crop insurance, conservation techniques and federal aid when necessary.
Another interesting point about the rural life in these times is that there were very few single men that actually operated one of these farms or ranches. They instead married hard working wives, and their wives and children would be the ones to handle the chores of the house and even some of the other tasks like feeding hired hands and handling all paperwork and finances. Some of these wives even worked out on the farm with their husbands. However, with the rise in sewing machines, washing machines and other appliances, it seems women turned into domestic roles and as a whole the government at the time was happier to promote women as being domestic helpers rather than equal workers. Overall however, this allowed the farming prairies to become a lot more socially responding than those in Europe. Entire communities were built and social events created for the farmers and their families, and all types of activities and functions were created for the families to enjoy.
Ranching also became huge in the Great Plains. Much of the Great Plains was freely used to cattle ranch and there was much trade for these cattle around the plain cities. Some of the cattle was even taken to Europe. However, the ranches never stocked up in case of a possible disaster, which occurred in 1886, and many cattle died from starvation or froze to death.