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.
An old cuz of mine was a Marine back during Nam and he went to artillery school at Sill. He was one the last, he says, to pop a cap (a 280mm non-nuke cap, that is!) on Atomic Annie. I shutter to think of what his military career would have really been had my old cuz had more than eight toes!
That was my first thought as well... Yearning for true freedom...
I always thought it was Lewis and Clarke, the Mormon trail-making exodus and the Gold Rush that caused it, plus the lure of free land in Oregon etc.
My aunt in Birmingham was busting on me in a serious way at my Grandmothers funeral. Somwhere in our conversation she said “we still have grits down here”! Hell, I’m in TN.
If you're interested, a good book to check into would be George R. Stewart's "The California Trail". From a quick skim of the text, the leader of the first wagon train after the Donner Party would seem to be Charles Hopper, though other groups arrived soon after on his tails.
Same here. Started out in Wiltshire England way way way back. Made it as for west as Indiana, which was pretty far West when they made it here. Now it's just part of the Midwest.
Oh well. Not really missing Kalifornia.
“What caused westward expansion in the United States?”
That’s easy: the influx of liberals on the east coast.
Gold and blonds on the beach.
Homestead Act. 640 acres of free land (if you were married) is a powerful inducment to get people to move and settle down somewhere.
Yup. Spent my first four years in the Army at Mother Sill. Atomic Annie’ll give you as much fire power as you need...big gun. It sits right up there by post headquarters.
We Alabamians are a tough bunch.
Mine mostly came west in the mid- to late 1700s, too.
Of my four grandparents
.England to VA to MS to IT/OK
.England to VA to KY to IT/OK
.Scotland to VA to AL to OK
And much later (1800s):
.Germany to PA to OH to OK
First settlement in TX was in very late 1940s. First and only child born here in my direct lineage was *moi*! Haven’t stayed here the whole time, however - I am *bi-statual* - the *other state*? You guessed it - Boomer Sooner.
One of my KY relatives introduced the bill to the US House to ratify TX’s annexation as a state in 1845. I figure that counts! (Except on the 2nd weekend in October.)
Oh, I know a lot about mine. Both grandmothers were in DAR, and one was in Colonial Dames and the other in Daughters of the Confederacy, so both had to have lots of documentation.
I know the most about my paternal-paternal lineage, as my dad got interested in it before he died and I did quite a bit of research on it and got BIA cards for both of us, after a man gave us a report he wrote on my great-grandfather.
Indian Territory was pretty small in 1858 when my g-g-gf first moved from Miss., so there was a lot written about the family and in-laws in the Chronicles of Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the grandmothers’ papers in my possession and whatever I’ve had otherwise was lost two computers ago. Some of it is still online, so I should probably gather it again after I switch to a newer non-virused one (this one is bad and will be gone soon).
I suppose somewhere on the net, there are statistics showing economic output from the losers of the CW dropping to ?
Which, of course, gave rise to telling these westbound nomads to “get thy kicks on Rte66!”