The 19th century was an important era in United States history. From many new advancements in industry to a drastic change in social behavior. From independent farm life to the start of urban development. Changes that have impacted society even to this day. By 1925, the massive growth from 44 million people in 1875, to 114 million people gave a broader perspective on how life should be lived in the ever expanding nation. Farms were the basis of American culture since Virginia was first founded back in 1625. People need food to live and land to grow it on.
America has plenty of land to cultivate so it’s the perfect place for an agriculturally based society. Let’s start from before the civil war began and work our way up to the popularity of urbanization through the beginning of the 20th century. The United States’ prosperity was ever expanding, growing immensely every year. The more people, the more food you need. So agriculture slowly began to be recognized as needed business. In 1862 along with the Homestead Act a government position was appointed for a commissioner of agriculture.
This was a leap that gave strength to the agricultural society of America. New farmers were excited about this because it showed that agriculture was had the security from the government that their farms were protected by a higher authority other than their ability to shoot trespassers. This also gave war veteran the ability to get funds for their farms by the government, written under the Homestead Act. The Agricultural boom became even more prevalent once the railroads began to arise throughout the eastern areas of the United States.
Farmers were able to transport massive amounts of food all over the states for much more profit, and it also benefited people in more densely populated areas where farming was scarce, such as New York. The agricultural industry began to grow even faster once the civil war began because food needed to be transported to towns north and south to feed the millions of soldiers fighting in some of the bloodiest battles in US history. The production of food increased as research and development brought about advances in the way agriculture was done. One of the great advances in the uprising of agricultural business was barbed wire.
It began production after the civil war had ended and was invented by two farming men, Joseph F. Glidden and Jacob Haish, who both wanted to fence off their farm land without using a lot of more expensive wood to create the type of fencing usually used around farm properties. Production started low and at a more premium price when it was first introduced- about 10,000 pounds total, $20 per one hundred pounds- in 1874. After just six years the amount of barbed wire being produced was up to 80. 5 million pounds and was selling to be used on farms all across the United States.
Barbed wire was and still is a practical and cheap alternative to standard wooden fencing and has made it possible for farmers to secure their livestock in large open fields. Keeping their livestock in the secure areas kept the more premium cattle from intermixing with the poorer quality cattle and also aided in disease prevention. Once farmers in the Nebraska area realized cattle could survive the harshest cold climates people started flocking westward even more because they could still farm and harvest all the food they would need in those colder climates.
This began the era of what most people think of as “cowboys”. Men on horseback would heard hundreds of cattle at a time from the more southern states up north to feed the population up in Chicago where they would be slaughtered or placed in the high plains to restock the used cattle in those ranges. The cowboys revolutionized the cattle business by allowing Americans north and south to have fresh meat all year round. They only lasted for about 25 years but made a huge impact on the livestock agriculture.
Plus with the railroad rapidly being stretched from east to west Americans all over the country were able to feed their families with meat that wasn’t available in their cities. Although the large cattle herds benefited the many, it hurt the smaller livestock farmers because they were unable to keep up with the prices the larger farms had, plus when poor weather such as droughts and flash-floods came through the barbed wire kept the cattle trapped and the smaller more poor farmers lost most of their livestock while the bigger richer farmers would still have some left to keep them in business.
This harsh testament of the weathers unpredictability forced many farmers to move to more urban environments where money was more stable when working in a factory and food could be bought at a local market rather than having to grow the food yourself. Technological advancements in machinery allowed many farmers to produce more food faster and easier with less man power. While the basis for agricultural work had been a man and his hoe in the past, then to a man and his horse with a trowel, to the refined development of the steam engine.
By the middle 19th century farmers had steam powered tractors, the Marsh harvester, that were able to harvest grain at much faster speeds, and then not twenty years later John Appleby created the wire binder which greatly outworked the Marsh harvester by churning out harvests at eight times the speed. This improvement in speed made it a lot easier for farmers to gather their crops before the weather could destroy them. Increase in speed nearly doubled production counts from 5. 6 bushels in 1860 to 9. 2 in 1880. It also took out much of the labor previously needed allowing less workers needed on farms and more time to plant more crops.
This push of advancing agricultural equipment meant more people had to find other forms of work and thus meant migration towards cities and factory labor. As the continuation of improvement persisted the steam engine was out done by the introduction of the gas engine. The gas engine gave more power and reliability to the farm machinery making work on the fields more efficient. Even as the machinery prices more than doubled through the end of the century and into the 1900’s, the profits and outputs of food quadrupled.
This gave way to the decrease in price of food, higher quality food, and the ability to expand their sales to other countries by exporting overseas. The invention greatly helped the farmers access their land more effectively but the farmers themselves had the intelligence to learn and reshape their strategies of harvesting their ever growing crops. As power began to grow within the agricultural machinery world, the problem of capitalism began to arise. Many companies were so successful with their new and improved machines that they were over-powering most independent companies and driving them out of business.
However much of the capitalist claims don’t necessarily concern the agricultural community. Many inventors and farmers themselves were having success in their new ideas of improving agriculture. Men such as Charles H. Deere and John Deere manufactured wonderful plows that have been modified over the years and are still in business today. Philip Danforth Armour and Herman Ossian Armour refashioned the meat packing, canning, refrigeration and quick transportation industry and also improved the sanitation of waste with more efficient practices.
Their ingenious efforts overhauled the Chicago beef and pork industry. A man by the name of Thomas Lynch also found a good use for the massive production of grain by distilling hard-liquor for the masses. Adolphus Busch had the same idea and used it to make beer in St. Louis. The Pillsbury Company also grew out of this time period of emerging companies and contributed to the consumption of the grain market to produce baked goods. All of these companies thrived but didn’t overpower any sort of competing commerce that is said to have been robbed, getting the name Robber Baron.
Most of the companies associated with that name were non-agricultural businesses that were profound in the larger, more populated cities. Companies such as Standard Oil, was where many old and independent farmers likely found work because oil was like gold, and was, in ways, easier to strike rich with. The growing economy and spread of wealth throughout the United States provided more opportunities for the independent worker, and jobs were sprouting like weeds in all the major cities.
People wanted to live a life that wasn’t possible in the generation before them, so farm life was a lost hope to many, and the chance to become a well-educated and successful business man emerged as the new dream. This drive for a more successful life all started with the rise in America’s agriculture. The flour and meal industries were some of the biggest in the United States during the mid-19th century and only grew larger into the 20th. America’s abundance of natural resources provided the nation with all the means to succeed in the ways it did.
Machinery, Scientific agricultural research, new strategies of farming, and the heart of the American people changed the way we live our lives, forever. By 1925, the cities had the advantages of being able to stay somewhat clean and support your family without having to work all day, every day, like maintaining a farm would need. The ease of access to all essential products was extraordinary. Since big agricultural companies were able to feed the entire United States population there was no need to try and farm feed yourself.
It is cheaper and faster to head to a market or grocery store and get the fresh produce and meat you need to be nourished and happy. Social communities were possible now. Having the time to go to bar and having a drink with friends and dancing the night away was an escape from daily life. People’s priorities were changing, and being able to enjoy the nightlife was one of them since electricity sparked through every building. The Agricultural era was coming to end for the majority of the people with only about twenty two percent of the population actually using the land they owned for agricultural purposes.
The business world was overpowering the minds of the people and pulling them away from the past generations norm and heading onward through the industrial revolution. The vast expansion of railroad and advancements in technology all benefited agriculture but as the time went by the high-labor aspect disappeared along with much of the agricultural community. The future of America was in a different place, a place that could be improved as much as the farms had been. The cities were and still are where opportunity is knocking.