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The 1830s and 1840s


Springfield Illinois
Springfield Illinois

During the 1830s and 1840s increasing numbers of settlers moved onto the prairies. At first they laboriously tilled the heavy, sunbaked prairie sod with cast-iron plows. Then, in 1837, John Deere, a blacksmith in Grand Detour, Illinois, developed a new all-steel plow that turned the prairie soil much more effectively. By 1850 farmers were using the so-called Grand Detour plow across the prairie lands of central and northern Illinois. With the invention and improvement of reapers, threshers, seed drills, corn planters, and multibladed plows, farmers began to cultivate much of the former grasslands, especially in the better-drained west central part of the state. Corn and wheat were the principal cash crops grown, and by 1860, Illinois led the nation in the annual production of both crops. Only after large-scale drainage systems were built late in the 19th century did farmers cultivate the prairie in east central Illinois.

The state’s agricultural development encouraged and then was itself aided by improved transportation. The Illinois and Michigan Canal was completed in 1848, a dozen years after work on it had begun. The canal, which linked the Mississippi River system with Lake Michigan, gave many Illinois farmers a direct water route to Chicago. In the 1850s railroads, such as the Illinois Central (completed in 1856), connected many sections of the state with Chicago. The Illinois Central and other railroads also hastened the sale of land, especially to Easterners, and many of the state’s small towns developed around railroad depots. In the 1850s Illinois grew more rapidly than any other state in the Union.

Population of Chicago


By 1860 Chicago, with a population of about 109,000, had become the leading industrial and commercial center in the Midwest, processing farm produce from the prairies for shipment to the East. Mining became an important economic activity in the 1840s and 1850s. Lead mining, which had long been carried on in the Galena area, reached its peak in 1848, when northwestern Illinois was the principal source of lead in the United States. After that year lead production declined, but in the following decade coal mining in southern Illinois began to supply the state’s railroads and to provide fuel for domestic and industrial use. "Illinois" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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