contents ©2016 by Harold Pfohl

Section II touches on the incredible changes that occurred during the half century after the immigration and then looks at the socioeconomic spectrum of life experienced by two families, Nieman and Lueder, farming outside of Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

Part 1 – Half a Century of Change – Nothing in History is Remotely Comparable – Train Wrecks, Reaper, Telegraph – From Sears: Farm Equip., Bust Enhancer, Flush Toilet, Baseball Pants, Arsenic Complexion Wafers and Much More

Nothing in the whole of human history even begins to compare with the story of humanity in North America in the period of roughly 1850 – 1930.  There are no superlatives adequate to convey the extreme scope and magnitude of change, good and bad.  In dealing with the half century subsequent to the emigration of the four families discussed in Section I, it is worth addressing a few of the changes that occurred in order to convey the experience of those who had then been young.

The 1880s and 1890s in particular were a time when the dreams of many immigrants were fully realized in the well-established, profitable farms of their children and grandchildren. In Europe land denoted status, and in America they had acquired land.  Through hard, frugal work, they won an independence and prosperity that would have been exceedingly difficult to achieve in the Old World. Life was generally good.

Fig 046 eIMG0030 work_edited-1 blog chalrlie
Carl (aka Charlie) Nieman

This Section II owes special thanks to Charlie Nieman, (1869-1957), who was a first class shutterbug in the 1890s. His photos are abundant in quantity and are marvels of clarity and composition. They are also special because Charlie loved life, loved people, and experienced the world as broadly as he could.  This is evident in his photos.

* * * * *

Settlement & Tillage – Immense, and Done with Incredible Speed

The total acreage of tillable land today in the European Union amounts to 265 million acres.

European Union – 265 million acres of tillable land

Source: Wikipedia

“In the single decade 1870-1880 over 190 million acres… were added to the cultivated area of the United States. Again, in the 20 year period, 1880 – 1900, there were added to the farm area over 305 million acres. Such a development was made possible by the extension of the railroad system in the grain region, which opened up new areas for cultivation and made it possible to market the product speedily and economically.” (Economic History of the United States, Bogart, 1907)

This is an unimaginable mind boggling achievement. It was made possible only by the concurrence of the Industrial Revolution, the opening to settlement of the American interior, the Homestead act which gave away hundreds of millions of acres of land free of charge with the condition that it must be farmed for a certain period of time to gain title, and the immigration of millions of Europeans who wish to take the risk and endure the privation associated with the pioneering settlement effort. All of these factors were necessary for this incredible event to occur.

Development & Growth of Railroads

iron mountain mo plank_roadB

In the early 1850s a plank Road was considered to be first-class land transportation.

RR 4 4 0 1856
1850s locomotive and tender

Railroads were in the early childhood stage of development. The rapidity of change over the half century is evident in the increase in track mileage as shown in the chart below – 9000 miles to 190,000 miles of track.

Miles of railroad – historical

Source: people.hofstra.edu

Two maps below help to illustrate the vast and rapid development of the rail system. In the first 1850 map vast expanses are empty. The 1901 map has a veritable spider web of rail lines.


Source Bogart

RR david rumsey 1901
Rail lines, 1901

Source – David Rumsey Map Collection

The growth of the rail network presented a vast array of technical problems in civil engineering, metallurgy, mechanical engineering, combustion, boiler design, fire prevention, and synchronized timekeeping. This was a great impetus to growth in the engineering colleges, especially at the land-grant universities.

Problems were observed that had to be addressed.

Click on image to enlarge

One suspects computer generated optics in the last image. Nonetheless – with a bridge out the above scene occurred occasionally with ghastly results.  Civil engineering for trackage, road beds, tunnels and bridges was every bit as important for safety and good operation as the design and engineering associated with mechanical equipment.

The improvements between 1850 and 1900 represented millions of hours of engineering and design with excellent results. The steam locomotive from 1900 is illustrated below.

RR 1900
Locomotive built by “Brooks” Feb., 1900.  With maintenance and upgrades the engines lasted for many years.  The engineering for steam had been largely perfected by 1900.

Railroad Land Grants & Homestead Act – giving away land

The Homestead act of 1862 gave away hundreds of millions of acres of land to millions of individuals and families. At the same time the railroads had tens of millions of acres provided as land grants to provide incentives to railroad corporations to build lines, build and operate equipment, and make it possible for the entrepreneurial farmers to engage in commerce with great population centers.

RR land promotion

Source – David Rumsey Map Collection

The adventure into immense virgin territory was a truly remarkable demonstration of the entrepreneurial spirit present in millions of average men and women.  They were willing to endure hardship in order to better their lot in life, to be independent, to build value.


The evolution of the telegraph network was essential to the safe and efficient operation of the railroads, to the functioning of commerce across the land- buying, selling, manufacturing, shipping, etc.  Speedy and timely communication was a necessity for the system to work.

telegraph key old
Telegraph key
telegraph old office
Telegraph office

The postal system was also greatly improved. By 1900 a postcard from the upper Peninsula in Michigan could reach in rural Milwaukee region in two days.

The Rotary press had been invented and the country had over 400 daily newspapers.

Farming Equipment

Countless hours of engineering, design, and research and development went into the creation of a multitude of implements, tools, and machines intended to radically increase productivity and reduce hand labor on the farm. The extraordinary advances in engineering were applied to every conceivable task.

A number of illustrations are provided below to illustrate this point. In looking at them from our time and place they seem so very primitive and crude. Bear in mind that at the time they were in use, they were state-of-the-art, and those who used them were profoundly grateful that such goods were available to ease their burdens in life and make their tasks more readily achievable.

When viewing the illustrations, imagine the absence of all of the equipment shown.  That was the experience of the emigrants.  The progress in half a century was simply phenomenal.  All of the equipment depicted in the illustrations below was a radical improvement over the previous hand labor. Absent such equipment and rail transport the hundreds of millions of acres that were distributed to the settlers would’ve evolved into peasant holdings with self-sufficiency plus goods taken to the local market. Not much else would’ve been possible and practical.

scythe grain

Cutting and gathering grain in the 1850s.

reaper ill copy

Long before 1890, McCormick reaper was in common use.  Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, were in operation.

grain elev Superior 1897 bb2
Lake Superior elevator

Source Minnesota Historical Society

Cities and shipping ports on the Great Lakes grew rapidly to accommodate the commerce that was created.

The abrupt increase in volume of grain was so great that it disrupted global markets.  United States became a major grain exporter to the world during this period of time.

Sears and Roebuck – 1902 Catalog


Source for all Sears reproductions: Bounty Books

Sears was the Amazon Corp of 1900. One could buy virtually anything that was inanimate. The catalog appears to have had 10 to 15 thousand items available for purchase.

To us the contents of the catalog are antiquated and quaint.  They are interesting, and often amusing.  To the men and women confronted with the arduous hand labor and limited goods of only a generation or two prior – these inventions were a Godsend. They greatly enriched life in many ways.  To us, they also make evident how much was yet to be done in research, development, engineering and manufacturing to get to where we are today.

Farm Equipment – Random Samples of Many Ads:

(click on the ads to enlarge them)

Click on images above to enlarge


Compare the above to the practice in 1850s is illustrated below.

Sowing the land – source: rural-revolution.com

Around the home

Click on images to enlarge


As shown above in the notes on railroads a plank Road was regarded as first-class transportation in the 1850s.

Improvements were so rapid that by 1900 roads had improved to such an extent that the Wisconsin Division, League of American Wheelman had published a map of bicycle routes for the entire state.


Source – David Rumsey Map Collection – Click on images to enlarge

Click on images to enlarge

Bicycle rifle!!????

Sporting goods

Concussion? – What’s that?


The items illustrated are testimony to the primitive state of medicine and the need for the Food & Drug Administration oversight.  Knowledge was limited, and people reached for help where they could.

Click on images to enlarge

Enhancing one’s appearance

Click on images to enlarge



Natural resources – example from Wisconsin and common elsewhere

The report illustrated below was published in 1867. It dealt with the devastation of clearcut logging in the northern two thirds of the state. It was ignored. The assumption was that the land was being prepared for farming in any event – so log it.

lumbering environ cvr page

Source – Wisconsin Historical Society

The land was ravaged. It is interesting to note that in its primeval state Wisconsin River did not flood. The forests and the undergrowth retained the rainfall no matter how heavy the downpour.

Charlie Nieman photo, Northern Wisconsin

There are numerous examples of environmental destruction, negative consequences of the extremely rapid expansion and settlement. Two examples:

  • The dust bowl in the southern Plains resulting from breaking ground on the plains which was historically arid but at the time of initial settlement was experiencing several decades of unusually sufficient rainfall.
  • Hydraulic mining in the gold country in the Sierra in California – immensely destructive of the environment.


Unimaginably vast socioeconomic change occurred over a remarkably short period of time across two-thirds of a continent.

stumps and lodging

The beginning – pioneering

Niemann Pioneer Home on Pigeon Creek – Used as a Chicken Coop – after 1885. Photo mid-1890s

Settled – 1850s (Nieman home)

Fig 025 Nieman's New Home Blt 1885, Photo Mid-1890's-b white vignette

Nieman home 1885 – prosperous – reaping the rewards

Next – Families and Homes






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