Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTFR XX
AGRICULTURE AND OTHER EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRIES, 1815-1860

Introduction. It has been previously pointed out that in a new and undeveloped country the extractive industries, especially agriculture, are likely to prove the chief lines of economic activity and the basis for the country's industry and commerce. That such was the case in the colonial period has already been shown. In the period now under consideration this still held true for, after all, the economic development of the greater portion of the country's area did not really begin until this period. Our political boundaries were still being rapidly extended and adding new resources to the vast amount still undeveloped, and the growing population was busily engaged in spreading out over and opening up this untouched wealth. Obviously these developments tended to prolong the period during which the extractive industries were so dominant, even though in the older more developed Northeast manufacturing was gaining relatively. The Mississippi Valley is one of the largest and richest agricultural areas in the world and its development during this period naturally helped to emphasize the predominant importance of agriculture among the extractive industries.

Though the other extractive industries could not begin to compare in importance with farming there was a relative gain in mining, for science and invention were showing new uses and creating new demands for mineral products, particularly iron and coal. The discovery of gold in the newly acquired territories greatly increased the output of that valuable product. The fact that that portion of the Middle West east of the prairie lands was covered with forests made possible an expansion of the lumbering industry into that section, though the timber resources of the East had not yet been very seriously depleted. At the same time the acquisition of territory beyond the Mississippi provided a region where the supply of fur-bearing animals made possible a continuation of the fur trade after these animals had been almost exterminated in the East.

Progress in Technological Methods in Agriculture. The rapid expansion of agriculture during this period was a product of numerous factors in the general development of the country. Among the most prominent were the rapid growth of population, the spread of this population over the rich agricultural region west of the Appalachians, and the introduction of better transportation facilities which made it economically worth while

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