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Exploring the Economic History of the Great Lakes Region

Economic history of Great Lakes region.

From source of sustenance to manufacturing powerhouse, explore the rich economic heritage of the Great Lakes region.

Understanding Change in America’s Great Lakes Region: An Economic History Perspective

The Great Lakes region has a rich economic history, with many industries developing from the colonial period to modern times. From fur trading companies to railroads and internal improvements, the area has seen a variety of economic activities. Additionally, books about farming manual, farm workers, national land systems and architecture for farm buildings are all available online for free, as well as information on federal land sales and household manufacturing.

Rural Architecture: being a complete description of farm houses, cottages, and out buildings, comprising wood houses, workshops …

tool houses, carriage and wagon houses, stables, smoke and ash houses, ice houses, apiary or bee house, poultry houses, rabbitry, dovecote, piggery, barns and sheds for cattle, &c. together with lawns, pleasure grounds and parks; the flower, fruit and vegetable garden. Also, useful and ornamental domestic animals for the country resident, &c. Also, the best method of conducting water into cattle yards and houses.

Allen, Lewis F.
NY: Saxton 1852

The book contains a number of illustrations, especially for buildings and floor plans.

Also see: Architecture – Public and Residential Buildings

See the Menu at the top of every page for Directories of Free Online Fiction and NonFiction Books, Magazines, and more, on 400 pages like this at Century Past

The Old National Road: Most Historic Thoroughfare in the United States, and Strategic Eastern Link in the National Old Trails Ocean-to-Ocean Highway

Bruce, Robert
New York: American Automobile Association 1915

The National Road was the country’s first major road to be built with Federal funds. It allowed numerous settlers to travel overland through the Appalachian mountains to the Ohio River in the early 1800s, from where they would then travel onward by flatboat or wagon to locations in the Northwest Territory. Eventually it was extended to Vandalia, IL, although this book is concerned only with the first phase. It long remained an important link between the Ohio country and the east coast for mail and freight. This small book with many maps and photos was a guide for tourists in the early 20th century, traveling by auto on the National Road from Baltimore to Wheeling, WV.

Also see: Frost, Harwood, The Art of Roadmaking (1910) in in Civil Engineering

“Commercial Intercourse with the Confederacy in the Mississippi Valley, 1861-1865” V 377-95

Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol V, 1918-19, 377-95

Coulter, E. Merton
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

During the Civil War the Federal government struggled with the problem of how best to regulate river trade between northern and southern ports and with border states such as Kentucky. The government wished to cut off supplies to the Confederacy, but did not want to push border areas to join the confederacy. Northern policy-makers also wished to buy cotton from the confederacy. This paper follows the changes in policy toward regulation of trade, and also shows how those involved in trade evaded regulations, often on a huge scale. Note the related article on this page by the same author.

See our Carpentry Books PDF Free Download

“Effects of Secession upon the Commerce of the Mississippi Valley”

Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol III, 1916-17, 275-300

Coulter, E. Merton
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

There was an immense river trade on the Ohio and Mississippi River prior to secession in 1861, including both the export of goods through New Orleans and commerce between the ports and cities along the rivers. Secession put merchants and state governments in a quandary. Some northerners feared that the Confederacy would cut off their access to the sea and stifle trade with southern ports, while others insisted on cutting off all supplies to seceding states. The author focuses especially on southern Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois, showing how these trade issues affected political sympathies there at the beginning of the Civil War.

The Great Lakes – The Vessels that Plough Them: Their Owners, Their Sailors, and Their Cargoes …

Together with a Brief History of Our Inland Seas

Curwood, James Oliver
NY: Putnam’s Sons 1909

With 72 illustrations and a map. Part and chapter headings are:

Part 1: The Ships, their Owners, their Sailors, and their Cargoes
-The Building of the Ships – What the Ships Carry – Ore – What the Ships Carry – Other Cargoes – Passenger Traffic and Summer Life -The Romance and Tragedy of the Inland Seas -Buffalo and Duluth: The Alpha and Omega of the Lakes -A Trip on a Great Lakes Freighter

Part 2: Origin and History of the Lakes
-Origin and Early History -The Lakes Change Masters -The War of 1812 and After

For works on boats and shipping, see: Navigation on the Great Lakes & the Region’s Rivers
Also see books on ships and seamanship in: in Ships & Seamanship.

Statistics of the West, at the Close of the Year 1836

Hall, James
Cincinnati: 1836

“A compilation of most valuable statistics, including Agriculture, Trade and Commerce, a valuable and complete record of Western Steamboats, and much interesting matter on the condition of the West at that period.”
– Peter G. Thomson, A Bibliography of the State of Ohio (1880)

History of the Lumber and Forest Industry of the Northwest

Hotchkiss, George Woodward
Chicago: Hotchkiss 1898

See our books on Oceanography Study

Hotchkiss’ Lumberman’s Directory of Chicago and the Northwest

Embracing the States of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin, together with a list of Southern and California Mills. with Miscellaneous Information, including Railroads, Rules of Inspection for Pine and Hardwood, Planing Mill and Storage Rates, Shippers Ready Reckoner of Freights, etc.

Hotchkiss, George W., ed.
Chicago: Donnelley 1886

See our books on What is Business Administration PDF

“The Methods and Operation of the Scioto Group of Speculators”, 1st Part

2nd Part

Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol I, 1914-15, 502-15; Vol II, 1915-16, 56-73

Hulbert, Archer B.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

The author began this paper by describing the difficulties in discovering the business practices of American land speculators and financiers in the late 18th century because of their habits of secrecy, but he overcame the obstacles to produce this case study.

See our Economics Books PDF

The Old National Road: a Chapter of American Expansion … with Maps and Illustrations

Hulbert, Archer B.
Columbus: F. J. Heer, 1901

The National Road was the country’s first major road to be built with Federal funds. Planning began in 1806 and construction began in 1811, with the stretch from Cumberland, MD (on the Potomac River) to Wheeling, WV (on the Ohio River) finished in 1818. Continued construction would eventually extend it to Vandalia, IL in the 1830s. It allowed numerous settlers to travel overland through the Appalachian mountains to the Ohio River by 1820, from where they would then travel onward by flatboat or wagon to locations in the Northwest Territory. The author credits it with facilitating the settlement of the Ohio country and with keeping the distant Northwest tied closely to the original U.S. states, overcoming the barrier of the Appalachian mountains.

The National Road was a huge, unprecedented Federal infrastructure project in the early 1800s. This volume traces the development of the idea and its implementing legislation, the challenges of contracting and construction, and the ongoing operations of the functioning road. There are chapters on roadside taverns and inns, and the people and vehicles that made use of the road.

See also: Martzolff, Clement L., “Zane’s Trace” in Ohio Economic History

The Ohio Company: Its Inner History

James, Alfred P.
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press 1959

Chapter headings are:

-Background: Historical Antecedents and Forces -Organization and Establishment 1747-1749 -Early Procedure 1749-1750 -Trade and Exploration 1750-1752 -Climax of Activity 1752-1753 -Facing Trouble 1753-1754 -Disaster and Hiatus 1754-1759 -Renewed Activity 1759-1762 -Lands, Petitions, and Memorials 1763-1769 -Acceptance and Rejection of Defeat 1770-1773 -The Kentucky Episode 1773-1779 -The End: Land Disposal and Land Litigation -Appendix A – Selected Documents from the A.P. James Collection
-Appendix B – Table of Commercial Transactions
-Appendix C – Table of Land Transactions
-Appendix D – Calendar of Ohio Company Documents

The National Road

Jordan, Philip D.
Bobbs-Merrill 1948

The author was a professor of American history, and this is the entire history of the first Federal Road, from the early days of the Republic until the 1940s.

Contents:Buckskin Leads Broadcloth – “I Have Writ Till I Am Faint” – Ebenezer Hews A Trace – Ohio Says Yes – Make It Sturdy And Strong – Cross At Wheeling – Buckeye Country – Through Hoosierland – And On To Vandalia – National No Longer – The Land Admirals – Riding The Shake-Guts – Bell Teams Tinkle – Sows’ Ears Make Silk Purses – Sign Of The Sheep’s Ear – Postbags And Robbers – Highroad Of Death – Patchwork Of Legends – Peddlers, Presidents And Circus – Drumbeats Along The Pike – Lazy Days And Ways – The Trail Goes Modern – U.S. 40

Essays on the Economy of the Old Northwest

Klingaman, David C., and Vedder, Richard K.
Ohio University 1987

“The Northern Railroads and the Civil War” V 324-38

Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol V, 1918-19, 324-38

Murphy, Hermon King
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

The author addresses the question of whether railroads in the north were sufficient to handle both military and civilian demands, and also describes some of the factors that complicated and slowed railway transport. Included are metrics on railroad capacity.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway

Nelson, James Poyntz
Richmond, VA: Lewis 1927

The author was an engineer who worked on the construction of the railroad from its earliest days. This history of the railway draws upon available records as well as his own experience.

Facts for Farmers: Also for the Family Circle: a variety of rich materials for all land-owners, about domestic animals and domestic economy; Vol 1

Volume 2

Farm buildings; gardens, orchards, and vineyards; and all farm crops, tools, fences, fertilization, draining, and irrigation. With an appendix on the diseases and cures of domestic animals. Illustrated with steel engravings.

Robinson, Solon
NY: Johnson 1868

Some chapters, and sections within them, are:

-Domestic Animals: Swine, Cows, Beeves, Feeding Cattle, Sheep Husbandry, Horses and Mules, Poultry.
-Small Animals and Insects: Bees, Birds, Entomological, Wild and Tame Animals.
-The Farmery: Farm Houses, Cellars, Chimneys and Ice-Houses, Barn, Corn Cribs, Piggeries, Smoke-house.
-Domestic Economy: The Food Question, Bread, Domestic Wines, Cider, Preserves, the Dairy.
-Garden and its Fruits: Vegetables, Flower Garden, Lawns, Hot-beds, Small Fruits.
-The Orchard: Propagation, Planting, Pruning, Grafting, Apple and Peach Trees, Cherries, Plums, Nectarines, Apricots.
-The Vineyard: How to plant and cultivate vines, Culture of grapes for wines.
-Cerealia: Wheat, Rye, Oats, Barley, Millet, Buckwheat, Indian Corn.
-Root Crops and Sugar Crops: Potatoes, Turnips, Beets, Carrots, Chinese sugar-cane, Maple-sugar making.
-Irrigation, Draining, Plowing, Farming Tools.
-Diseases and Cures of Domestic Animals.

Hired Hands and Plowboys: Farm Labor in the Midwest, 1815-60

Schob, David E.
University of Illinois 1975

The author “studies this distinctive aspect of American life in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from 1815 to 1860. Through hundreds of details drawn from farmers’ records, diaries and letters, county histories, newspapers, and periodicals, Schob evokes the farm laborer as he broke prairies, harvested grain, drained ditches, dug wells, and worked during off-season winter months logging, sawmilling and pork packing.” There is also information on wages, contracts, and working conditions. -Publisher

The Old Pike: A History of the National Road, with Incidents, Accidents, and Anecdotes Thereon

Searight, Thomas B.
Uniontown, Pa., 1894

See the summary description of Archer Hulbert, The Old National Road, also on this page, for a brief description of the National Road. This book is also a comprehensive history of the legislation, construction and operation of the road, and contains many entertaining and interesting anecdotes and details.

See also: Martzolff, Clement L., “Zane’s Trace” in Ohio Economic History

“Fur Trading Companies in the Northwest, 1760-1816”

Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association Vol IX, 1915-18, 283-91

Stevens, Wayne E.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

Immediately after Montreal’s capitulation had been signed in 1860, British merchants and traders began flocking into the Great Lakes region, supplanting the old French system of leased posts and monopolies. The British soon built up a monopoly in the fur trade, retaining it until after 1796, when Great Britain ended its control of military posts in the region. They continued to dominate until the aftermath of the War of 1812. ” … it is the purpose of this paper to outline the history of these [British] companies and to trace the steps by which American enterprise supplanted British influence within the limits of the United States.”

“Some Sources for Mississippi Valley Agricultural History” VII, 1920-21, 142-45

Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol VII, year, 142-45

Taylor, Raymond G.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

The author lists several 19th century books written by foreign observers on agriculture in the Old Northwest, and describes two of them. Prairie Farming in America by James Caird (available on our Illinois Economic History page), and American Farming and Food by Finlay Dun represented observations 20 years apart in the same region by recognized authorities, and documented the rapid modernization of farming methods as well as the displacement of sheep grazing by crop-farming during the 1860s and 1870s.

The National Land System 1785-1820

Treat, Payson Jackson, PhD
NY: Treat and Company 1910

The author writes in his Preface that, “It is the purpose of this study to show how the national public lands passed into private ownership during the first great period of our land system.” “Between 1776 and 1820 the public domain had been formed, the land system had been organized, the granting of land for education and military services had been introduced, and grants for internal improvements had been discussed, while the methods for confirming foreign titles had been well worked out. But especially it was the period of the credit system, the operation of which well deserves consideration.”

Chapter headings are:

-The Origin of the Public Domain -The Origin of the Federal Land System -Land Sales under the Confederation, 1787-1789 -Congress and the Land Debtors -The Extension of the Land System -The System of Surveys -The Confirmation of Foreign Titles -Land Grants for Military and Naval Service

See also: Knepper, George W., The Official Ohio Lands Book in Ohio Economic History

Household Manufactures in the United States, 1640-1860

Tryon, Rolla Milton
Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1917

Chapter headings are:

-Factors affecting Household Manufactures in the Colonies
-The Status of Household Manufactures in the Colonies
-A Quarter-Century of Developments, 1784-1809
-A Year’s Output of the Family Factory (includes household manufactures in every state and territory, and household textile manufactures)
-The Products of the Family Factory (wearing apparel, textile supplies, household implements, utensils, furniture, farming implements, building materials, general supplies)
-The Transition from Family- to Shop- and Factory-Made Goods
-The Passing of the Family Factory

Related books are at: Making Cloth and Clothing on the Frontier
Also see: Textiles and Costume Books.

“The Mississippi Valley and Internal Improvements, 1825-1840”

Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association Vol IV, 1910-11, 153-80

Way, Royal B.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

“By 1825 the completion and successful operation of the Erie Canal awakened the earnest efforts of almost every State and locality to inaugurate the construction of numerous projects. By 1840 the early railroads had so demonstrated their superiority over canals that a change occurred in the kind of transportation system advocated.” “It is the purpose of this paper to account for the interests of the Mississippi Valley in internal improvements and to exhibit the influences within the Valley which operated for and against the establishment of any national system of intercommunication.”

“The United States Factory System for Trading with the Indians, 1796-1822”

Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol 6 no. 2 Sep 1919, 220-235.

Way, Royal B.
Urbana, ILL: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

The author began the article with a brief review of the systems established by the French, British and Spanish in North America to carry on trade with the Indians for furs. After Independence the U.S. began issuing licenses to private traders and attempted to regulate them, as the U.S. sought to compete with British and French traders in their newly acquired territory. In 1796 a law was passed to establish trading posts under the direction of the president; or a system of government ‘Factors’ running government trading posts. The author goes on to trace the implementation of this system.

For works on the “Indian trade”, or fur trade, see:
– Adams, J. A., “The Indian Trader of the Upper Ohio Valley” in Ohio Economic History
Stevens, Wayne E., “The Organization of the British Fur Trade 1760-1800″ in “The Indian Trader of the Upper Ohio Valley” in Ohio Economic History;
Johnson, Ida Amanda, The Michigan Fur Trade in Michigan Economic History;
Turner, Frederick Jackson, The Character and Influence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin; a study of the Trading Post as an Institution in Wisconsin Economic History;

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