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Railroads and Immigration

The advantages and resources of early Nebraska were extensively publicized by the Union Pacific and the Burlington, the state's two major railroads. Each had been given large land grants by the federal government or by the state. The railroads were anxious to dispose of these lands to prospective settlers so that towns and farms could be developed along the lines as quickly as possible to provide a profitable carrying trade.

Both roads conducted vigorous promotional campaigns. They stationed immigration agents in the East and in northern and central Europe. Millions of brochures describing the prospects of Nebraska were distributed. The railroads helped exhibit the state's products at fairs and expositions, and conducted special "land-seeking" excursions with the understanding that if the excursionist decided to purchase land, his fare could be applied to the payment. The Beatrice Express on September 10, 1874, noted the Burlington's ongoing efforts to attract settlers to Nebraska:

"The B. & M. R. R. Co. is accomplishing one thing that should entitle them to the sincerest gratitude of every citizen of Nebraska who has an interest in seeing the broad prairies of his state settled upon and improved and its taxable wealth increased. They are doing more than all other agencies combined (excepting the U.P. Co.) to promote immigration into the common-wealth. They are making every effort to induce colonies, both home and foreign, and individuals to locate in the State, and to this end, run excursion trains to and from the East, offer their lands at low figures and on easy terms, send agents to Europe and to all parts of the United States to induce emigrants to come West and buy their lands, issue countless circulars showing the advantages and resources of the State, and in many other ways aid in providing settlers for these vacant acres that surround us. To be sure all this is done directly for their own interests, but in this day of sharp conflict between railroads and the people, this fact should not blind us to the truth of the statement that in this matter of immigration their interests are the people's interests. The State pays to support a Board of Immigration [established by the Nebraska Legislature in 1870], whose purpose is just that of this railroad company--to bring settlers into the State. Yet the latter is accomplishing infinitely more than the Immigration Board, without cost to the State."

(August 2001)



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