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Rise of Industrial America
Railroads in the Late 19th Century
Railroad Land Grants

Without the assistance of the U.S. government, railroad construction between 1860 and 1900 would have been greatly curtailed. Building a railroad was an expensive venture. Private banks, fearing the railroad companies would need a long time to pay off their debts, were reluctant to loan money to the companies. To remedy the situation, Congress provided assistance to the railroad companies in the form of land grants. The land grant railroads, receiving millions of acres of public land, sold the land to make money, built their railroads, and contributed to a more rapid settlement of the West. In the end, four out of the five transcontinental railroads were built with help from the federal government.

The following are a map of land Congress turned over to the railroads in the form of land grants and an announcement for the sale of railroad lands. Why do you think Congress made land available to the railroads in the places and configurations shown on the map? What incentives did the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad Company offer to potential land buyers? Why do you think the company chose to use the poster as a marketing device? Do you think it is effective?

The document on the left is from American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920. The document on the right is from American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides. Click on the images below to view a larger image. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


U.S. map

U.S. Western Railway Land Grants

broadside: land for sale

Millions of Acres


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The document on the left is from American Landscape and Architectural Design, 1850-1920. The document on the right is from American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides. Click on the images below to view a larger image. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.