Unit 9, Section Three Notes: Railroads, Farming,
Reform, and Technology
In the 1870’s, farmers were struggling to
survive. After years of falling prices due to
supply exceeding demand, most farmers
were greatly in debt to merchants from
which they borrowed money. As they dealt
with droughts and other issues, they also
had to compete with foreign competition
and high interest rates on the loans they
took out. Many simply couldn’t go on.
Because of serious transportation problems,
economic growth in Texas was slow. Texans were
eager to build more railroads throughout the state,
since they provided cheap, fast, and reliable
transportation of people and goods. By 1870, the
U.S. had a transcontinental railroad. Texas was far
behind the rest of the U.S. in the miles of track.
Local towns and the state government began
setting aside land and funding the building of
railroads.
 There was a demand for cheap and reliable
transportation.
 Railroads promised new business
opportunities.
 Along with railroads came the growth of
agriculture and industry in Texas.
 Cities and counties began setting aside
money for the building of railroads.
 The state set aside land grants for the
railway lines.
 More settlements in Texas were built in the West Texas
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frontier.
Cities began to grow that were along the railway lines.
Cities that were not along railway lines saw a decline in
population and business.
New jobs were created in Texas because of the railroad
industry.
The agriculture industry in Texas grew even more with
the ability to send goods to other markets on the
railroads, while cattle drives all but disappeared.
With the growth of the railroad industry,
many farmers began to move into west Texas
during the late 1800’s. Many crops grew well
in the drier climate, like wheat and
sorghum. To deal with the dry weather,
many farmers used windmills to pump water
from aquifers for crop irrigation. They also
used the new John Deere tractor to break
through the hard top soil to get to the rich
soil below.
New machinery and the growth of railroads led to
commercial farming, or the large-scale growth of crops
to sell for profit. Farmers began to just produce one
kind of crop, such as cotton, instead of many. But as
farmers grew more crops, supply began to exceed the
demand, so prices fell and farmers were left with
cotton that could not be sold for the price they wanted.
Because of the drop in prices, a boll weevil problem,
and a drought, many farmers found that they were not
making enough money to pay for the cost of running a
farm.
In the late 1860’s, many farmers joined together to
establish a group commonly called the Grange.
This group promoted cooperation and social
activities among farmers, along with the
schooling of rural children. They opened
cooperative stores for use by businesses owned
and operated by members of the Grange. These
cooperative stores would buy supplies in large
amounts and members could buy these items for
a discounted price.
In 1891, members of the Grange and the Southern
Farmers’ Alliance helped to form the Populist Party.
The Populist platform was to reduce the influence of
big business, like the railroad industry, on
government. They wanted the government to own all
railroad, telephone, and telegraph companies so that
their services would be made more affordable. They
fought for an 8-hour work day and for the government
to print more money for circulation. In the end, the
Populist Party dissolved when members couldn’t agree
over issues.
By the late 1800’s, railroad, oil, and other big
industries that operated in Texas became large
and powerful. Monopolies were created,
meaning that one company would have complete
control over an industry, eliminating
competition and driving up prices. Texans began
to want these big businesses regulated, but many
of the business owners argued that the
government didn’t have the right to interfere.
There was one Texan in power that believed in
reform – James Stephen Hogg. He was the
attorney general of Texas in 1886 and he
brought lawsuits against companies with
unfair business practices. He helped to get
laws passed to regulate monopolies and
ended price-fixing. Still, problems
continued for farmers and many rural
communities demanded more regulation.
Hogg was elected governor in 1890 by a
landslide. He quickly began signing laws
that regulated big business, which became
known as “Hogg Laws.” He created the Texas
Railroad Commission to make sure that
railroad companies were following the new
laws. He also pushed for reform for better
public schools and more effective prisons.
Another influential member of the Reform Movement
was James E. Ferguson. Because of his support of poor
people and farmers, he was known as “Farmer Jim.”
Some said that he was dishonest, but he was elected
twice, in both 1914 and 1916. He passed legislation to
create a highway department to fix Texas roads. He
also tried to get laws passed to limit the amount of rent
a landowner could charge a tenant farmer, but those
laws never went through. As governor, he gained many
enemies who claimed that he stole state money. He
was impeached and removed from office in 1917.
Progressives wanted to improve society, so
they were not just focused on one issue.
They worked to pass laws about voting, such
as ones that prevented election fraud and
bribery. They also worked for the passage of
the Seventeenth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution, which stated that U.S.
senators would be directly elected by the
people instead of chosen by the state
legislators.
 After the Hurricane of 1900, progressives
pushed to make local government more
efficient so they could cope with future
disasters.
 They tried to help Texas workers by fighting for
them to receive higher wages, better working
conditions, and a shorter workweek.
 They opposed child labor, getting the first child
labor law passed in 1903.
 Progressives worried about unregulated food and
medicine. They wanted the government to regulate the
food and drug industries so that they had to meet
certain standards to sell their products.
 They tried to improve Texas schools. Teachers were
often untrained and schools lacked resources and
proper facilities. They worked to create schools to train
teachers. Laws were changed so that schools could get
enough money for resources. Eventually schools
improved so much that the state decided to require
attendance for all school-aged children.
Sadly, education reform did not reach all
Texans. Laws were passed that established
separate funding for schools based on race.
As a result, many Mexican American and
African American students did not receive
proper educations. Many of these students
who wanted to earn a law or medical degree
were forced to go out of state to school.
The support for prohibition – the banning of
the manufacture, distribution, and sale of
alcohol – increased in Texas during the late
1800’s and early 1900’s. Many supported the
Prohibition movement as part of their
religious beliefs. Though supported in many
areas, it was a difficult topic that even split
the Democratic Party. The 18th Amendment
was passed and alcohol was outlawed in
1920.
Women played a vital role in almost every
reform movement, but the most important
issue for most was that of women’s right to
vote. The Texas Equal Suffrage Association
argued that “no state can be a true
democracy in which one half of the people
are denied the right to vote.” Suffragist faced
strong opposition in Texas, but the 19th
Amendment was finally passed in 1920,
giving women the right to vote.
Throughout Texas, many African Americans and
Mexican Americans fought for reform, but in many
cases, their help was not welcomed by white
progressives. Laws were passed in Texas that
denied suffrage to members of minority groups. In
1902, a poll tax was passed which kept poor Texans,
many of whom were minorities, from voting. Jim
Crow Laws, or black codes, were passed that
segregated housing and public facilities – even
drinking fountains. Racial tensions often became
violent.
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Unit 9, Section Three Notes