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Railroads and American Economic Growth: Essays in Econometric History Paperback – March 1, 1970

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 315 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press (March 1, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801811481
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801811487
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.6 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,715,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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In this important early work of historical economics Fogel examines the impact of railroads on the 19th c. US economy, concluding that it was not the main driver of growth, only contributing a small fraction to GDP.

Railroads greatly lowered the cost of transport, from 24 cents per ton-mile by wagon to less than one cent for rail, although the Civil Engineers criticized the wagon rate as too high but the CE's did not include the driver's time. David Ames Wells (1891) gave an example which from which the cost by wagon can be calculated at 16 cents per ton-mile.

Fogel presented an argument that the economy could have grown almost as much using water transportation by an extension of the canal system to include proposed projects that were abandoned with the advent of rails. However, as Fogel admits, the pattern of settlement would have been different. Also, Fogel overlooks the fact that some water routes would have been many times longer than rail routes. Also, railroads were essential for moving coal and iron ore and without them a place like Birmingham, AL could not have become a steel center after the Civil War.

According to Fogel, railroads did not use as much iron as had been generally assumed, consuming only about 25% of production, while nails, hardware, shovels and other tools used more iron. When steel rails were mass produced in the 1870's they quickly replaced iron rails that only lasted 10 years. In "A Nation of Steel (Misa) and "Men, Machines and Modern Times" (Morison) we are told that almost all of the steel went to rails. The expansion of railroads was dramatic after the introduction of steel, with a near doubling of mileage each decade from 1870-90.

The book contains numerous graphs and tables to support Fogel's analysis.
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