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The Impact of Technological Change on American Agriculture, 1862–1962*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 February 2011

Wayne D. Rasmussen
Affiliation:
U. S. Department of Agriculture

Extract

Two revolutions in American agriculture reflect the impact of technological change on farming during the past century. The first revolution saw the change from manpower to animal power, and centered about the Civil War. The second revolution saw the change from animal power to mechanical power and the adaptation of chemistry to agricultural production. It centered around the post-World War II period. The transition from animal power to mechanical power is virtually complete. In 1962, the Statistical Reporting Service of the United States Department of Agriculture discontinued reporting the number of horses and mules on farms. They were no longer of significance to farm production.

Type
Technology and Science in Agriculture
Copyright
Copyright © The Economic History Association 1962

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References

1 Edwards, Everett E., “American Agriculture—The First 300 Years,” in U. S. Dept of Agriculture, Yearbook, 1940 (Washington: Govt. Printing Office, 1940), pp. 221–22Google Scholar.

2 Ross, Earle D. and Tontz, Robert L., “The Term ‘Agricultural Revolution’ as Used by Economic Historians,” Agricultural History, XXII, No. 1 (Jan. 1948), 3238Google Scholar.

3 Ross, Earle D., “Retardation in Farm Technology Before the Power Age,” Agricultural History, XXX, No. 1 (Jan. 1956), 11Google Scholar.

4 Danhof, Clarence H., “Gathering the Grass,” Agricultural History, XXX, No. 4 (Oct. 1956), 169–73Google Scholar.

5 Bureau, U. S. Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957 (Washington: Govt. Printing Office, 1960), pp. 115Google Scholar, 117, 283, 288.

6 Johnson, Sherman E., Changes in American Farming, U. S. Agriculture Dept., Misc. Publ. No. 707 (Washington: Govt. Printing Office, 1949), p. 3Google Scholar.

7 Kendall, Edward C., “John Deere's Steel Plow,” Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology, U. S. National Museum, Bulletin No. 218 (Washington: Govt. Printing Office, 1959). P. 23Google Scholar.

8 Bidwell, Percy W. and Falconer, John I., History of Agriculture in the Northern United States, 1620–1860 (Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1925), pp. 300–2Google Scholar.

9 Anderson, Russell H., “Grain Drills Through Thirty-Nine Centuries,” Agricultural History, X, No. 4 (Oct. 1936), 178–79Google Scholar.

10 Jordan, Weymouth T., “The Peruvian Guano Gospel in the Old South,” Agricultural History, XXIV, No. 4 (Oct. 1950), 211–21Google Scholar; and Taylor, R. H., “The Sale and Application of Commercial Fertilizers in the South Atlantic States to 1900,” Agricultural History, XXI, No. 1 (Jan. 1947), 4652Google Scholar.

11 Historical Statistics, p. 285.

12 Towne, Marvin W. and Rasmussen, Wayne D., “Farm Gross Product and Gross Investment in the Nineteenth Century,” Trends in the American Economy in the Nineteenth Century, Studies in Income and Wealth of the National Bureau of Economic Research, Vol. 24 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1960), p. 276Google Scholar.

13 Shannon, Fred A., The Organization and Administration of the Union Army, 1861–1865;, II (Cleveland: The Arthur M. Clark Co., 1928), 6768, 188–91.Google Scholar

14 Towne and Rasmussen, “Farm Gross Product and Gross Investment,” pp. 265–303.

15 Shannon, Fred A., The Farmer's Last Frontier, Agriculture, 1860–1897, Vol. V: The Economic History of the United States (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1945). P. 127Google Scholar

16 U. S. Agriculture Dept., Changes in Farm Production and Efficiency; A Summary Report, Statistical Bulletin No. 233 (Washington: Govt. Printing Office, 1961), p. 43Google Scholar.

17 Kendrick, J. W., Productivity Trends in the United States, National Bureau of Economic Research, General Series, No. 71 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1961), pp. 362–64Google Scholar. Kendrick's calculations relate to net farm output; this is net of intermediate products but gross of capital consumption. While gross output is net of intermediate products which have not passed through organized markets, Kendrick subtracts from gross output farmers' purchases of intermediate goods consumed in production, such as feed, seed, fertilizer, and irrigation, in arriving at net farm output.

18 Slater, William, “The Revolution in Agriculture,” Advancement of Science, XVIII (Sept 1961), 249Google Scholar.

19 Shideler, James H., Farm Crisis, 1919–1923 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957), pp. 1819Google Scholar.

20 Johnson, Changes in American Farming, p. 3.

21 Kendrick, Productivity Trends in the United States, pp. 362–64.

22 U. S. Department of Agriculture, Changes in Farm Production and Efficiency, p. 43; Loomis, Ralph A. and Barton, Glen T., Productivity of Agriculture; United States, 1870–1958, Technical Bulletin No. 1238 (Washington: Govt. Printing Office, 1961)Google Scholar. In considering changes in farm output Loomis and Barton have isolated inputs for the period 1870— 1910; they are labor, real estate, and capital. Capital is taken as the residual of labor and real estate. Thus, they have been able to indicate the source of change in farm output for this period.

23 The development of hybrid corn is told by Wallace, Henry A. and Brown, William L., Corn and Us Early Fathers (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1956), pp. 103–14Google Scholar.

24 Street, James H., The New Revolution in the Cotton Economy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957)Google Scholar.

25 Cochrane, Willard W., Farm Prices; Myth and Reality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958), pp. 94107Google Scholar. Cochrane points out the process of farm adoption of technology. The farmer, although not able to control his prices, is able to control his costs. Hence, he will adopt given technological advances which permit the lowering of unit costs. As the aggregate demand for agricultural products is quite inelastic, the increase in output created by the adoption of a given technological advance results in a lower level of farm prices. This process is labeled by Cochrane, the “agricultural treadmill.”

26 U. S. Department of Agriculture, Report of the Secretary, 1940, p. 143Google Scholar.

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