Credit: Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1840-2000/

Historical Insights The Great Dakota Boom

Farming the Dakota Territory was backbreaking work; farmers relied on heavy plows and animals to break through the tough sod. 1883. Credit: Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1840-2000/

The Great Dakota Boom

Thanks to new farm technology, the Homestead Act, and the railroad, the Dakota Territory experienced a period of robust growth from 1870 to 1890.

Since 1858, the Dakota Territory had been open for settlement; however, there were few takers. But beginning in 1878 and continuing for almost the next two decades, the region experienced a boom. From 1870 to 1890, the population increased from 11,766 to more than 328,000 people, while the number of farms jumped from 1,700 to more than 50,000. Organized towns also had robust growth from just six in 1870 to 310 by 1890. Several factors accounted for the “Great Dakota Boom,” as it was called. Abundant rain and new farming technology made for greater crop yields; the annual swarms of locusts that had once decimated crops were gone. Free land, thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862, drew thousands of people as did the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in the mid-1870s. Finally, the railroad brought people and goods, which also contributed to the explosive growth of the region.