Skip to comments.What caused westward expansion in the United States?
Posted on 02/28/2008 3:21:48 PM PST by decimon
Study reveals that the price of land was less important than technological innovation
Western Expansion during the nineteenth century was an important determinant of geographic distribution and economic activity in the United States today. However, while explanations abound for why the migration occurred from the low price of land to a pioneering spirit little empirical work has been done to determine which specific market forces were the most important drivers.
Applying quantitative analysis to historical explanations, a new study by economist Guillaume Vandenbroucke of the University of Southern California finds that the price of land was significantly less important to Westward Expansion than population growth and technological innovation leading to a decrease in transportation costs.
From 1800 to 1900, the United States tripled in size, from less than one million square miles to more than three million square miles. The geographic distribution of population also shifted, from about seven percent living in the West to roughly 60 percent. To examine what forces were most directly responsible for the magnitude of this movement and land accumulation, Vandenbroucke takes into account such factors as the amount of land available in the Eastern United States, wage and productivity growth in the East, and improvements in technologies and transportation infrastructures.
To account for the range of variables and possible factors, Vandenbroucke determined a model in which each factor was held at a constant level while the others shifted at historical rates.
The most important forces are population growth and the decrease in transportation costs, Vandenbroucke said. Population growth is mostly responsible for the investment in productive land without it less than half of the land accumulated in 1900 would have been accumulated.
Surprisingly, Vandenbroucke found that changes in productivity in the East had little effect on the Westward Expansion, relative to population growth and a decrease in transportation costs as he explains, rising wages and productivity makes it easier to move, but it also makes it less pressing to move.
Instead, he finds that population growth and technological innovation worked in concert as the main driving factors of Western Expansion. Specifically, the decrease in transportation costs induced Western migration and the redistribution of the American population without it only 30 percent of the population would have been in the West in 1900, compared to an actual historical figure of 60 percent. Land improvement technology, such as the use of barbed wire to cut down on the time needed to build a fence, had a small effect on the accumulation of land in the West.
Vandenbrouckes findings, appearing in the current issue of International Economic Review, have important implications for how to understand current population patterns and international immigration to the United States.
About the University of Southern California: Established in 1880, the University of Southern California is one of the worlds leading private research universities and the oldest private research university in the western United States. USC enrolls more international students than any other U.S. university and offers extensive opportunities for internships and study abroad. With a strong tradition of integrating liberal and professional education, USC fosters a vibrant culture of public service and encourages students to cross academic as well as geographic boundaries in their pursuit of knowledge.
< high-pitched, smarmy liberal voice >Everyone knows that it was caused by the imperialist caucasians of European extraction and their desire to rape Mother Gaia and to subjugate and murder the peaceful, non-confrontational Native Americans who only wanted to coexist with their neighbors and live in harmony with the biosphere!< /voice>
Civil war vets were offered land out West. That is how some of my people wound up in the Washington Territory.
In the 1970s it was color television images of the warmth and sunshine at the Rose Parade every January 1st.
I thought it was Disneyland but that explanation seems more complete.
Not to be smartarsed but just factual, it sounds as though they kept moving out of what was the United States.
They kept running away from the federal guberment.
Too many furriners from Europe invading the East coast pushing us out!
While all true, it was the evil gun that made it possible. If it wasn't for guns we would all be able to live together in peace and harmony.
The guber was not yet so uber but I can believe that some were drawn to what was a nearly uncontrolled land.
The earth rotates to the east so naturally anything not nailed down will move in a westerly direction. Simple.
Clearly, if you didn't have a growing population you wouldn't have seen that kind of rapid expansion.
And if you didn't have open land, there also wouldn't have been anywhere to expand to.
So it doesn't seem like the most productive question to ask.
Perhaps more interesting after all these years is the Fogel thesis:
Fogel's first major study involving cliometrics was Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History (1964). This tract sought to quantify railroads' contribution to U.S. economic growth in the nineteenth century. Its argument and method were each rebuttals to a long line of non-numeric historical arguments that had ascribed much to railroads without rigorous reference to economic data. Examining transportation costs for primary and secondary goods, Fogel compared the actual 1890 economy to a hypothetical 1890 economy in which transportation infrastructure was limited to wagons, canals and rivers. The difference in cost (or "social savings") attributable to railroads was negligible - about 1%.
Wish that damned ocean weren't there so we could do the same thing today.
My family stayed in the South. We had no ambition.
“What caused westward expansion in the United States?”
Because going east was pretty much a non-starter.
That reminds me! I haven't done any raping or subjugating in almost a week! Wondered why I felt a little down.
That's cuz you folk had the Gores to keep things warm.
This has got to be one of the more understated analysis I’ve seen in a long time. For example, East of the Mississippi, movement by water had long be the fastest practical means of transport. West of the Mississippi, forget it, you have to go overland.
To further complicate things, westward expansion might have been through wilderness, but it often had a destination: the West Coast. Between the British and the Spanish, what is now Texas, the southwest, California and the Pacific northwest were places, destinations, to travel to.
A lot more people wanted to go there than stop in the Great Plains. The degree of difficulty for starting fresh was very high, evidenced by the Mormon settlement of Utah—they almost starved. They probably survived by being able to provide supplies, at a price, to settlers passing through, eventually being able to support themselves.
Only technology such as the railroads and the windmill allowed for much of the Great Plains to be occupied at all. The windmill to get water to grow crops, and the railroads to transport those crops once grown.
While certainly life by today’s standards was utterly awful on the eastern seaboard, by the standards of the day it was luxurious compared to setting out on your own across the frontier.
Much of the West only opened up after the post-Civil War, Indian Wars forced the deployment of much of the Union Army West. Once the Army was there, settlers finally had an interior place to go.
Texas was an “odd man out” for much of this, as were the Oklahoma Indian territories. They had their own paradigms of expansion and growth. The great rush to occupy them as home stakes, granted by the US government, could only happen in due course.
Texas, especially, for a while was carved up by enormous ranches like the XIT (for “Ten (Counties) in Texas”), who engaged in shameless land grabbing and exploitation. But the great cattle drives to Kansas City only lasted a short while before being ended by barbed wire fences.
As more infill happened, the primary concern of the settlers was creating a civilized town for themselves and their children. This ended many of the antics surrounding frontier settlement, culminating in the Census of 1890, which was no longer able to determine a “line” of settlement. This meant that westward expansion and the frontier were finished. It all was settled. From there it was just a matter of growth.
That's a good point. If you must expand then it's best to do so over land.
The Gores are from Tennessee. Alabama considers that the North : )
Settlement of “the West” was much faster than popularly imagined. Indiana University (oldest university West of the Alleghenies) was founded, for the most part, by a crew from Harvard, who also founded what’s now called Bloomington Normal University (in Illinois), several others on the way, and when they were done some of them were still youthful enough to be professors at Stanford.
Alabamans consider everything the North.
It was Benjamin Franklin and his Ohio Company.
Even south Florida is the north.
I have never found out when my ancestors arrived in America, I said it was before the Revolution because the first entry into the family Bible belonging to them was the birth of my great great great ? grandfather in Virginia in 1776. Maybe they were here before then and could be that was just when they got the Bible.
My G Grandfather got off the boat from Hamburg and enlisted with an Uncle in the Union Army. He went to Washington Territory and built a sawmill. Over the years fortunes went up and down until 1898 and the Gold Rush. That tough old German came back with a tidy fortune and kept it.
That was the dream that brought them to America and then to the West.
The Society of Cincinnati had a hand in westward expansion.
Under the Homestead Act, the price of land was free. How is that “not important”?
Read (not watch) James Mitchner’s “Centennial”
There ware lots of reasons
What caused westward expansion? Television viewers in California during the late 1960’s learned the answer from advertisements for MJB coffee. The ads featured people using every mode of transportation imaginable to travel westward to get the coffee, since there was “only enough for the West.”
Maybe it is because I am a 4th generation Native Texan... but I can not find any blame with Ditter's ancestors or mine?
Flame away, Texashaters. You always do.
My family hates gold. We prefer dirt. My family owns a lot of dirt and dirt is gold.
That facist prick Jefferson sent the lead scouts (Lewis and Clark) of the soon to follow army of invaders whose sole purpose was to deprive the natives of their 500 square mile per family legacy. Jefferson was a racist and an imperialist and, and, and white! < /sarc > just in case.
LOL! They are just jealous of our fabulous heritage.
No argument from me as there are always multiple reason for grand events. But this research attempts to discover what were the primary reasons for great numbers of people to move west. Or maybe it's better to say what enabled great numbers of people to move west.
Well, that hasn't been in this thread so I don't know why you are begging it.
I think yee struck the nail on the head.
She makes this very complicated. The real answer is land, Land, LAND!
All you need to know cane be found by asking genealogists why the west expanded so rapidly.
I again recommend.... Read the book.... it is heavily researched and offers the primary reasons in extreme detail.
It was a process, not an event
(Some say the first chapters are pretty intense, but it gets much better as you get into it)