Industrial antiques, fridge magnets, history...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Missouri & Burlington River Railroad's Role in Settling the West

Missouri & Burlington River Railroad Company.
The 1872 pamphlet on which this magnet is based was published by the Missouri & Burlington River Railroad company.  Using an illustration of the Big Blue River between Camden and Crete in Nebraska, it offered attractive credit terms on acreage: 6% for a 10 year note with the first payment not falling due until the 4th year, and a 20% discount for a cash payment.  The offer was further sweetened with transportation rebates.*
Running through southern Iowa, the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad (B&MR) was the third railway between Chicago and the Union Pacific junction in Kerney, Nebraska.  The project was conceived around 1850 but it wasn't until 1869 that serious construction got underway, beginning with 2.5 million acres from federal and state grants.  By 1872 the line was acquired by Chicago, Burlington and Quincy RR (CB&Q).
To build a market, start by importing buyers.
For railroads west of the Mississippi, laying rails was just the first step.  For

profitability they needed fares from passengers and, more importantly, from cargo.  Since population was sparse, railroads first had to sell land so as to increase the number of residents operating farms and ranches, who would then pay fares to ship their produce and livestock east to Chicago.  Whew.  Talk about growing the market!  Players of video games such as Frontierville (or SimCity for ye older folks), probably think, "well doh, of course," but I wonder what awareness Harris and other railroad land commissioners had of themselves as nation builders or history makers.

Preiswerter Flächeninhalt, Westen nach Nebraska!
The Burlington Railroad's colonization efforts are credited with creating Lincoln as well as a dozen other cities along the rail line.  In their promotions, land officers targeted immigrants from certain countries they felt were better at farming.  One land officer had poor regard for Italian and French farmers, for example, so used selective language transcription in promotional pamphlets to attract immigrants he felt were better farmers, ie., people from Germany, Scandinavia, England, Wales, Scotland, Russia and Canada.  In other words, immigrants from Italy or France who did not read German, English or Dutch were less apt to find their way to Nebraska.  

Targeted sales were also accomplished by leg work from traveling salesmen and advertising in European and American cities on the east coast.  The ads usually consisted of small classified advertisements placed in newspapers and agricultural magazines.  Interested parties were invited to write for a pamphlet or send $.30 for a map.  According to correspondence from one European agent, Burlington was disadvantaged in attracting immigrants because the company didn't offer the goodies offered by others such as free land, houses, implements and wages.

Burlington Railroad Land Commissioners became part of Lincoln community.

George S. Harris (1815-1874)

As senior land commissioner for the Hannibal & St. Joe Railroad George S. Harris sold 600,000 acres in Missouri.  He then went to work for Burlington and sold 360,000 acres in Nebraska and Iowa.  A Caldwell, NY native, Harris  is credited with selling land to over 100,000 European immigrants from 1869-1874.   

George made his home in one of the cities he helped build, Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife Sarah and their 10 children.  He was instrumental in establishing the Congregational church and was active in the Republican party.  Reportedly his life was shortened when he narrowly survived the sinking of the steamer Metis in Rhode Island in 1872.  Pioneer Park in Lincoln was part of a 600-acre donation in 1928 by one of George's sons, as a tribute to his father and the pioneer immigrants who settled in Nebraska.  Another of his son's, George B. Harris, distinguished himself in the railroad industry, becoming president of the Burlington & Missouri. 

T. H. Leavitt, Assistant Land Commissioner
Thomas H. Leavitt founded the 20-acre Riverside Stock Farm in Lincoln where he raised 250 head of cattle, 200 hogs and annually produced 20,000 lbs of cheese.  The Riverside place was sold to Charles M. Branson in 1883.  Thomas was formerly of Massachusetts and, like his boss George Harris, a trustee in the Congregational church.  He was also active in the Lincoln, Nebraska historical society, elected to serve on the organization's first board of directors, and in 1893 helped organize a chatauqua program at the Lincoln Penitentiary.  In 1886 he was involved with an organization formed to control alcohol in Lincoln.  Leavitt remarried in Nebraska; prior to that he was married to a noted temperance leader and suffragist, Mary Greenleaf Clement Leavitt.

Lincoln, Nebraska history

The Q Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad CBQ

Burlington and Missouri River Railroad (B&MR)

I don't understand the following paragraph on the pamphlet. I get it that they refunded the ticket price to land buyers but do not understand the business about terms better at $5 than pre-empting at $2.50.

Land Exploring Tickets Sold and Cost allowed in First Interest paid, on Land bought in 30 days from date of ticket.  Thus our Land Buyers Get a Free Pass in the State where the Land bought is located.  TERMS are BETTER at $5, than to pre-empt United States Land at $2.50 per Acre.  Ordinary inducements on freight and passage are afforded to purchasers and their families.


  1. Hi, my name is Evan Agresti, my Grandmother is directly related to George Harris. he is her Maternal great grandfather. I have two pictures of him one that is scanned and a picture or two of their house in Lincoln if you want them. Also what you say about the steamer is correct. He also was an abolitionist if his being a republican didn't give that away. and he had a sabbath school for children in Missouri I believe.

  2. Thanks for the additional info. I'll email you about that picture of Harris. I wonder if he and Leavitt knew they were making history.