Society: 1830-1900 Early Government Aid to the Rails

Flyer advertising the TS&W Railroad

The Land Grant Act of 1850

To encourage railroad growth and help offset the financial burden construction entailed, the federal government passed the Land Grant Act of 1850.  The Act was intended to promote construction of a railroad that would run from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.  Illinois, Alabama, and Mississippi received the first lands.  In return for the land, any railroad that built lines had to transport government property at a reduced rate.  Later all railroads had to offer the government reduced rates under legislation designed to equalize rail competition.  The government also profited from the land grants by raising the price of land surrounding the grant land from $1.25 per acre to $2.50 per acre.  The promise of rail lines made the once unwanted land valuable.  Railroads received 131,000,000 acres of land from the government grants during the policy's life between 1850 and 1871.

To learn more about land grant railways, go to the East St. Louis Archives and view excerpts from J.L. Ringwalt's 1888 book, The Development of Transportation Systems in the United States.

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