The American West: A Modern History, 1900 to the Present

By Richard W. Etulain; Michael P. Malone | Go to book overview

Chapter One The Emerging Postfrontier
Economy, 1900–1930

The closing of the frontier during the decades following 1890 brought with it an economic transition, away from the rampant exploitation of the West's seemingly limitless resources and toward the modern, regulated economy that has developed during the past half-century. During this key formative period, which ended with the terrible depression of the 1930s, the western economy continued to stand fundamentally on agriculture and on older extractive industries like mining and lumber, as well as on newer extractive industries like oil and gas. As the new century unfolded, the pluses and minuses of such reliance became increasingly obvious. On the positive side, the rise of a modern transportation network and the developing Industrial Revolution brought new technologies and mechanization, which allowed the West to produce ever greater bounties of wealth for the nation and the world, as well as for itself. On the negative side, the region's exploitative economy, dedicated overwhelmingly to the production of unfinished natural products, doomed it to a roller-coaster cycle of booms and busts and a lingering “colonial” relationship to the financial and industrial capitals of the East. By the 1920s, a decade of prosperity for most of the nation, the postfrontier West found itself in a paradoxical position, the victim of its own riches. All of its key industries—agricul

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