The Features Of Westward Expansion From 1860 To 1890

The human civilization is known to have been marked by various events that influenced the social, economic as well as political growth throughout the world. One such event is the Westward Expansion, which comprises a collection of events that took place in the Western Territories of America over a century; from 1807 to 1910. It is interesting to observe the various activities that marked the Western Expansion during this phase, ranging from the enactment of various laws, political wars to the development of infrastructure. This essay will focus more particularly on the events that marked the Western Expansion in the period between 1860 to 1890. The Western Expansion in the period between 1860 to 1890 was characterized by structural development, advancement in technology, and economic structures in the United States of America.

The 1860-90 period in America saw numerous expansions that impacted the social and economic structures within the nation. This resulted in the emergence and expansion of the large western urban centers through better utilization of lands for agricultural purposes, the development of railroad networks, and the establishment of territories and states. In 1860, for instance, there was the expansion of eight of the major cities across America that had a population exceeding 1,000000 people each. These cities included New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. Of these, only Philadelphia and New York had a lesser population at 500,000. The statistics in New York, however, were a bit dynamic, considering that Brooklyn was a city within New York City. Brooklyn had a population ranging from 100,000 to 500,000, thereby making the numbers for New York City as a whole a bit diverse to determine. In 1870, more towns emerged into the fray with a population ranging from 100,000 to half a million. These included Buffalo and Newark.

Through to 1890, America continued to experience the sprouting of more urban centers, and the expansion of already established cities. The skyrocketing populations within these cities were influenced by, among other factors, the setting of the railroad network, which facilitated the transport of both people and goods. In 1860, there was the establishment of the railroad networks which cut cross America, connecting the eight major cities mentioned above. The railroad network facilitated the establishment of a new city; San Francisco, in 1870. A direct railroad network to San Francisco was instrumental in its Expansion in the subsequent years since the network greatly facilitated its trading with the rest of the major cities across America. For instance, a direct railroad from Chicago to San Francisco was essential in ensuring that both human and natural resources flowed freely across both cities. By 1890, the development and expansion of the railroad network had facilitated the emergence of more cities across the states since more systems offered connecting systems to the earlier cities. The growth and development of these cities were instrumental in improving trade and agriculture. 

In 1860, for instance, the green dot coverage of improved agricultural lands within the cities moved closer to each other. What this meant is that the growth in commercial agriculture was on the rise in towns with a high population, such as Philadelphia and New York. By 1880, the size of these agricultural lands had expanded not only in the previously established cities but also the new towns. The improvement of the transport system played an integral role in connecting the farmers to new markets, thus motivating agricultural productivity. Cities such as San Francisco had already tapped into this advantage and improved its rustic vibrancy even before it achieved the official status in 1870 as a city. 

Food production thus became a significant factor in encouraging the growth and expansion of the western territories and cities from 1860 to 1890. It is common knowledge that food is one of the basic needs of human beings. The availability of food not only means the availability of social energy necessary for other economic activities, but it provides a commercial business on its own. The availability of food resulted indirectly in the increased birth rates, both in the cities and the rural setting, thus promoting the growth in population. Increased food production provided an economic platform for not only the farmers to sell their produce, but the revenue generated from agricultural activities facilitated the growth of other industrial sectors. This is because food production ensured cash flow within the cities. This explains why cities such as San Francisco rose to become central trading centers even before it was officially declared a city. 

The advancement of technology and science was another critical factor for the growth and expansion of the western territories. The technology was crucial in introducing more modern means of doing things, such as improving agricultural production. The manufacture of farm machinery increased immensely agricultural outputs within the plantations. They facilitated the fundamental processes in the farms, such as harvesting. Advancement in food science was also critical in introducing new crops, as well as farming techniques, which were essential in answering to the current food needs of society. These ensured that farmers were able to capitalize on their resources for improved agricultural productivity. In urban cities, technology was essential in introducing modern ways of living. For instance, the availability of electricity, the use of technology to improve systems of transport like roads, and housing infrastructure were essential in promoting the rural-urban migration, which increased commercial activities in the cities. On the other hand, technology advancement, like the invention of computers, was essential in connecting America to the rest of the world, thereby facilitating global trade. 


  • LaFeber, Walter. The new empire: An interpretation of American expansion, 1860-1898. Cornell University Press, 1998.
  • PBS Learning Media. 'Westward Expansion, 1860–1890.' Last modified 2019.
16 August 2021
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