1800-1860: Business and the Economy: Chronology

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1800-1860: Business and the Economy: Chronology




  • The Santee Canal in South Carolina is completed; it is the countrys first significant canal.
  • 4 Apr. Congress passes the first federal bankruptcy law. It is repealed on 19 December 1803.
  • 10 May Congress revises the national land policy. No longer needing to acquire public lands in 640-acre blocks, purchasers can now buy public land in 320-acre sections (at two dollars an acre) on credit. Obtaining land becomes easier for more people.


  • One hundred thousand bales of cotton are picked in the United States this year. Production will later skyrocket with the expansion of the cotton frontier.
  • 1 Nov. With the revision in the public land laws in 1800, an additional 398,000 acres have been purchased by this date.




  • The nations first agricultural fair is held in Washington, D.C.
  • 26 Mar. Congress again modifies the land law so that settlers and speculators can buy public land in 160-acre parcels.


  • As a result of the booming international trade with the Caribbean and Asia, the United States imports more than seven million pounds of pepper.


  • The American fur trade with China surpasses $5 million annually. In exchange for furs merchants, such as John Jacob Astor, acquire tea, silk, and spices.


  • Approximately $5 million worth of goods are sold in the newly acquired port of New Orleans.
  • 11 Aug. Robert Fultons steamboat, the Clermont, travels up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany.
  • Nov. Manuel Lisa completes Fort Raymond in Montana. It is the first U.S. trading post on the Upper Missouri River.
  • 22 Dec. President Thomas Jefferson signs the Embargo Act, which bans U.S. exports to Great Britain and France. Although designed to enforce the United States neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars, it fails and hurts the American economy.


  • Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin submits his report on a national transportation system to Congress. Although his plan is rejected, Gallatin predicts many features of the upcoming transportation revolution.
  • 1 Jan. The importation of slaves from Africa is forbidden after this date, but an illegal slave trade continues, with perhaps as many as 250,000 slaves illicitly imported before 1861. Meanwhile the domestic slave trade flourishes.
  • 4 Apr. John Jacob Astor obtains a charter for the American Fur Company, later to become the nations largest company in the vast fur trade.
  • 16 July Manuel Lisa and partners form the Missouri Fur Company, which emerges as the largest firm in the Upper Missouri and Rocky Mountain fur trade for the next six years.


  • 1 Mar. Congress repeals the Embargo Act.
  • 23 May William Bent is born in St. Louis, Missouri. Bent will become one of the most important American merchants in the Indian trade on the Southern Plains.


  • There are 171,000 bales of cotton picked in the United States.
  • 1 Oct. The Berkshire Cattle Show opens in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. This is an early county fair demonstrating agricultural improvements. Such a fair will become common throughout much of the West in the years to come.


  • The charter for the First Bank of the United States expires and is not renewed. In 1791 Alexander Hamilton had convinced Congress to establish this bank to stabilize the new U.S. economy and encourage capital investments.
  • 12 Apr. John Jacob Astors men arrive in Oregon to establish the trading post Astoria.


  • The War of 1812 begins, and the federal government has trouble funding the war without the First Bank of the United States. A lack of adequate transportation routes also hinders the war effort. American manufacturing receives a boost because of the lack of British goods.
  • William Monroe of Massachusetts manufactures the first lead pencils, which will later become common in business offices.
  • 12 Jan. The steamboat New Orleans travels from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, thus initiating the age of steam on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.


  • Robert Stuart, a fur trader, completes his expedition from Astoria to St. Louis. On this trip he discovers the South Pass through the Rocky Mountains, which will later provide a route for settlers immigrating to the West Coast.


  • David Melville produces the first circular saw, making the future timber industry more efficient.
  • 9 Aug. The Creek Indians, residing in what will later become Alabama, yield large tracts of land in the Treaty of Fort Jackson, thereby opening a considerable area to white settlement.


  • The availability of credit expands in a postwar economic boom. In the next two years the number of state banks grows from 88 to 208.
  • Settlement of the West increases with the end of the War of 1812.
  • The steamboat Enterprise travels from Brownsville, Pennsylvania, to New Orleans, Louisiana, and back again. This is the first steamboat to come back up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Keel boats soon become obsolete.
  • With the treaties of Portage des Sioux much of the resistance of Native Americans north of the Ohio River ends. White settlers begin to pour into the region.


  • Approximately $10 million of goods are sold in New Orleanstwice the amount from nine years earlier.
  • 6 Feb. The New Jersey State legislature gives the first charter for a railroad in the United States to John Stevens.
  • 10 Apr. The Second Bank of the United States is chartered in order to curb the inflation stemming from unregulated banknotes issued by state banks.


  • 3 Mar. President James Madison vetoes the Bonus Bill, which would have appropriated federal funds for transportation routes.
  • Apr. The New York state legislature approves the building of the Erie Canal, which will stretch from Albany to Buffalo.
  • 4 July Construction begins on the Erie Canal.


  • The National Road reaches Wheeling in what will become West Virginia.
  • Cincinnati, Ohio, establishes its famous meatpacking industry. Eighty-five thousand hogs are butchered in 1833 and five hundred thousand in 1848. Only in 1860 does Chicago surpass Cincinnati as the nations center for meatpacking.


  • Jethro Wood patents the first moldboard for a plow to help turn the soil.
  • Cotton prices plummet and, combined with land and bank speculation, create a financial panic. Demand for American goods declines; businesses fail; and banks collapse. The resulting depression lasts until 1823.
  • 2 Apr. John Skinner begins the publication of American Farmer, the first of many agricultural journals.


  • 24 Apr. The federal government modifies the public land law to enable settlers to purchase land in eighty-acre parcels at $1.25 an acre. The credit system, which primarily benefited speculators, is canceled.


  • Kentucky becomes the first state to abolish incarceration for debt.
  • 24 Feb. Mexico achieves independence from Spain.
  • 1 Sept. William Becknell leaves Missouri for a successful trading venture to New Mexico, thereby opening the Santa Fe Trail.


  • 4 May President James Monroe vetoes a bill to repair and collect tolls on the National Road.


  • Nicholas Biddle of Philadelphia is appointed president of the Second Bank of the United States. Confidence in the bank increases, but many in the West resent his growing power over the economy.
  • William Ashley creates the rendezvous system for American fur trappers in the Rocky Mountains.


  • Twenty-five American wagons with $30,000 worth of merchandise traverse the Santa Fe Trail and return from New Mexico with $190,000 worth of silver and furs.
  • Fur trader and scout Jedediah Smith rediscovers the South Pass through the Rocky Mountains.
  • 2 Mar. The U.S. Supreme Court hands down the Gibbons v. Ogden decision, which establishes the federal governments power over interstate commerce.


  • Steamboats represent about one-half of the traffic on Western waterways.
  • 3 Jan. The British cotton industrialist Robert Owen attempts to set up a Utopian society in the United States with the establishment of New Harmony, Indiana, a community based on the equal ownership of property.
  • 26 Oct. The state of New York completes the 364-mile Erie Canal, connecting Lake Erie to the Hudson River; the commerce between East and West accelerates.



  • Baltimore businessmen plan the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in order to connect their city with the Ohio River. Although not completed until 1852, this railroad trunk line becomes the prototype for future westward railroads.
  • Through buying out or merging with its competitors, the American Fur Company gains a dominant position among U.S. firms in the Upper Missouri fur trade.


  • The Georgia state legislature passes a law claiming that it will have jurisdiction over Cherokee lands in two years. Although struck down as unconstitutional in 1831, Georgia, with the support of President Andrew Jackson, ignores the ruling.
  • Robert Owens New Harmony community in Indiana fails.
  • 4 July Construction begins on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.


  • The demand for U.S. cotton in British factories fuels the expansion of the cotton frontier in the American South.


  • An estimated $22 million worth of goods are sold in New Orleans, more than twice the amount from fourteen years earlier.
  • Approximately 731,000 bales of cotton are picked in the United States, more than four times the amount from twenty years earlier.
  • Surveyors plot the city lots for Chicago, Illinois; in sixty years it will become the nations second-largest city.
  • 27 May President Andrew Jackson vetoes the Maysville Road Bill because the road is to be built within only one state, Kentucky.
  • 28 May President Jackson signs the Indian Removal Act to facilitate the migration of the major Indian nations from east of the Mississippi River to Indian Country, a region in present-day Oklahoma and Kansas.


  • The federal government removes the Choctaw Indians from Mississippi and settles them in Indian Territory.
  • Edmund Ruffin of Virginia publishes Essay on Calcareous Manures to encourage the use of fertilizers such as lime and gypsum in depleted Southern soils.


  • President Jackson vetoes Nicholas Biddles attempt to recharter the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson claims, with some legitimacy, that the bank is too powerful and primarily benefits the rich. Federal funds are placed in various state banks. Wildcat banks lend paper money, not supported by gold and silver, to Westerners. The amount of currency in circulation expands from $59 million to $140 million in the next four years.


  • The National Road reaches Columbus, Ohio.
  • The Ohio and Erie Canal opens, connecting the Ohio River with Lake Erie.
  • 1 Oct. President Andrew Jackson withdraws federal funds from the Second Bank of the United States.


  • Cyrus McCormick patents his first mechanical reaper. McCormicks machines and others similar to them transform American agriculture in the decades ahead.
  • Jesse Buel of Albany, New York, begins publication of the Cultivator, which will become the first nationwide farm journal.


  • Land speculation reaches feverish heights. In this year and the next, speculators buy as much as 22 to 25 million acres of public land.
  • Wheat farmers suffer a crop failure in the West, which in turn creates economic hardship.


  • 4 July The federal government revises and significantly improves the system for patenting inventions.
  • 11 July President Andrew Jackson issues the Species Circular, demanding that public lands be bought with gold and silver. The circular curbs land speculation with questionable banknotes, but it also destabilizes the Western economy.


  • Wildcat banking and land speculation are matched by a fall in cotton prices, and the tightening of British credit brings the overheated economy to a screeching halt. The ensuing depression lasts until the mid 1840s. Banks collapse throughout the West. Western states repudiate debts for roads, canals, and railroadstemporarily slowing the transportation revolution.
  • American economist Henry Carey publishes the first volume of Principles of Political Economy. In it he defends tariffs but argues against most forms of governmental interference in the economy.
  • John Deere manufactures the first steel-blade plow.
  • 29 Dec. Hiram Avery and John Avery Pitts of Maine patent and later produce a more efficient machine for the threshing of grain.


  • The National Road reaches Vandalia, Illinois; the federal government ends construction of the road there.
  • 25 Apr. The steamboat Moselle explodes on the Ohio River, killing one hundred people; this is only one of many accidents occurring on Western steamboats.


  • 7 Jan. Washington Mining Company is chartered; it is the first silver-mining company in the nation.


  • The beaver fur-trapping systems of the West finally collapse because of the depletion of beaver populations and the shift in fashion to silk hats.
  • More than twenty-eight hundred miles of railroad tracks have been built in the United States.
  • Approximately $50 million worth of goods are sold at New Orleansmore than twice the amount from ten years earlier.


  • 16 Aug. President John Tyler vetoes the first of two attempts to create another national bank, called the Fiscal Bank of the United States.
  • 19 Aug. A new federal bankruptcy law is enacted; it is repealed on 3 March 1843.
  • 4 Sept. The U.S. Congress passes the Preemption Act, allowing squatters the right to purchase the land on which they had settled for $1.25 an acre.


  • 16 May The migration to Oregon commences when 112 men and women leave Independence, Missouri; they arrive in the Oregon territory in December.


  • 22 May One thousand emigrants herding five thousand head of cattle leave Independence, Missouri, to settle in the Oregon territory; most reach the area in October.


  • 24 May Samuel Morse sends his first telegraph message. It travels between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland, and reads What Hath God Wrought. Later, telegraph lines, which become central to the business community, stretch across the West.
  • 19 Sept. Federal surveyor William Burt discovers iron on the upper peninsula of Michigan. Iron mining later becomes one of the regions chief industries.


  • Missouri is the fourth Western state to abolish incarceration for debt.
  • 1 Mar. The United States annexes the Republic of Texas. The state becomes a leading exporter of cotton and cattle in the decades to come.


  • Aug. U.S. forces under Stephen Kearny take New Mexico in the Mexican War. The sheep trade south to Chihuahua, Mexico, declines.
  • Summer England repeals its Corn Laws. American farmers can now export their grain to the British Isles; demand for American grain increases 170 percent in the next decade.


  • 16 Apr. Samuel Morse forms the first telegraph company in the United States, named the Magnetic Telegraph Company.


  • 24 Jan. James Marshall discovers gold at John Sutters Mill, and the California Gold Rush begins. Later in the year New Mexicans begin herding sheep to California to feed the miners.
  • 2 Feb. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico cedes most of what is now the American Southwest to the United States. This region will form an economy based on mining and livestock through the rest of the nineteenth century.


  • Eighty thousand people arrive in California for the Gold Rush. In this year miners extract approximately $10 million in gold.


  • John Heath invents a binder to tie grains, further mechanizing U.S. agriculture.
  • In the last six decades the center of population for the United States shifted westward from near Baltimore, Maryland, to near Parkersburg, in what will become West Virginia, on the Ohio River.
  • Approximately 2,133,000 bales of cotton are picked in the United Statesnearly three times the amount from twenty years earlier.
  • 9 Sept. Only two years after gold is discovered, California achieves statehood.
  • 20 Sept. Congress grants the first federal land to states for the construction of a railroad between Chicago, Illinois, and Mobile, Alabama. The federal government awards more than 27 million acres for 7,500 miles of track in the next six years.


  • The 483-mile Erie Railroad, linking the Hudson River to Lake Erie, is completed.
  • The Pacific Railroad Company, later called the Missouri Pacific Railroad, begins construction across the state of Missouri to connect St. Louis with Kansas City.


  • Two railroad lines connect Chicago, Illinois, with eastern ports. The new city begins its rise to dominance as the great metropolis of the West.
  • In this year alone, $81 million worth of gold is mined in California.
  • Dec. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad is finally completed when it reaches Wheeling in what will become West Virginia.


  • Seven railroad trunk lines connect eastern ports with the Trans-Appalachian West.
  • 3 Mar. Congress authorizes the War Department to conduct a survey for a future transcontinental railroad.
  • 30 Dec. The United States buys the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico. This stretch of land in southern Arizona and New Mexico completes the boundaries of the continental United States.


  • By this year three hundred thousand people have arrived in California for the Gold Rush.
  • The nations first commercial flour mill opens in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a city that will become a major wheat-processing center.
  • 30 May The Kansas-Nebraska Act commences the white settlements of Kansas and Nebraska. It also helps push the country toward civil war over the issue of slavery in the territories, including Kansas.
  • 3 Aug. The Graduation Act is passed to reduce the price of federal land. The price per acre varies from 12.5$ to $1.25, depending on the length of time it has been on the market.
  • 30 Dec. George Bissell and Jonathan Eveleth create the nations first oil corporation, called the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company.


  • Chicago, Illinois, surpasses St. Louis, Missouri, as the center for the Western grain trade.
  • David Christy publishes his book Cotton is King, or the Economical Relations of Slavery, coining the phrase Cotton is King for the South.


  • The Illinois Central Railroad between Chicago and Cairo, Illinois, is completed; it receives more than 2.5 million acres of federal land to help finance its construction.
  • 21 Apr. The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River is constructed between Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa.


  • 24 Aug. A drop in grain prices and the over-production of U.S. manufactured goods in an atmosphere of renewed land speculation and wildcat banking set off another panic. The resulting depression lasts two years.


  • The Butterfield Overland Mail begins service to California.
  • 30 Mar. Hyman Lipman patents the first pencil with an eraser, which will later become common in the business office.
  • July Gold is discovered near present-day Denver, Colorado, thus initiating the Pikes Peak Gold Rush and the white settlement of Colorado.


  • Vast quantities of silver are discovered near what will become Virginia City, Nevada. The Comstock Lode will yield $300 million worth of silver and gold in the next twenty years.
  • For the first time in U.S. history the value of manufactured items (almost $2 billion worth) surpasses the value of agricultural goods.
  • Approximately 5,387,000 bales of cotton are picked in the United Statesmore than twice the amount from nine years earlier.


  • Thirty thousand miles of railroad tracks have been laid in the United States. Almost $1 billion has been invested in railroads in the last twenty years.
  • Approximately 16 percent of the nation now lives in cities with more than eight thousand residents; in 1790 the percentage stood at just over 3 percent.
  • An estimated $185 million worth of goods are sold in New Orleansthree times the amount from twenty years earlier.
  • Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin are the top wheat producing states in the United States. Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and Indiana are the top corn producing states in the nation.
  • 3 Apr. Pony Express mail service between St. Joseph, Missouri, and San Francisco, California, commences.
  • 16 June The federal government passes the Pacific Telegraph Act to build a telegraph line between Missouri and California.

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1800-1860: Business and the Economy: Chronology

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1800-1860: Business and the Economy: Chronology