Factors Influencing Geographic Patterns in the United States

Factors Influencing Geographic Patterns in the United States
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  • 0:03 Colonization and…
  • 1:47 Immigration
  • 2:38 Transportation,…
  • 3:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain how colonization, westward expansion, immigration, transport, and communication have influenced geographic patterns in the U.S. historically. A short quiz will follow.

Colonization and Westward Expansion

When people first settled in the United States, life was hard. Colonies from England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands were set up, but many didn't survive. The death rate was super high. Early colonists included people looking for a new life: adventurers, soldiers, farmers, and tradesmen, people who were persecuted for their religious beliefs, and even outcasts. But eventually stable colonies were established and the English ones became dominant. This led to the original 13 colonies that would eventually become the United States.

Over time, as the colonies became increasingly successful, the population grew and people started to spread out and move west. At first this progress was slow, but as life got easier, helped by the abundant natural resources in the United States, the westward expansion accelerated.

In 1803, the U.S. government nearly doubled the country's size in the Louisiana Purchase. And then later with the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the U.S. expanded control of the Pacific Northwest. The U.S. continued to expand west into California, spurred on by the Gold Rush of 1848 and 1849. The Gold Rush was a rapid movement of people towards newly-discovered gold fields, particularly to the western United States and California.

Gold and the natural resources of the United States in general, particularly coal, oil, and precious metals, drove the expansion west. The abundance of fertile land and water also helped. But there were other factors beyond natural resources that helped make the expansion as rapid as it was.

Immigration

Immigration was a big factor in the early United States and remains so to a lesser extent to this day. No country on Earth has accepted as many immigrants. The U.S. has welcomed as many as 50 million and even today, 700,000 people enter the United States every year. Immigrants increase productivity and improve economic growth and were a big part of the success of the United States. They're also a big part of what makes citizens of the United States who they are - people who are confident, flexible, and open to risk-taking and innovation.

But all this immigration means filling the land. Population pressure in original colonial towns definitely encouraged people to move west and find their own patch of land. In fact, the government of the time encouraged it.

Transportation, Communication, and the Railroad

Another huge factor affecting the changing geographic patterns of the U.S. was the development of transportation and communication. Telegraphs allowed messages to be relayed over long distances, and railroads allowed goods and people to move faster than ever before. The building of the railroad sparked an acceleration of western expansion, unlike anything seen in the U.S. before.

The same was true later as roads were built for automobiles and improved with the interstate highway system. As transport becomes quicker and easier, people move around more and more, and for the U.S., that meant more building and development in the west. Telephones and most recently, the Internet have had similarly huge impacts on the geographic patterns of the U.S., making it easier to contact those you leave behind and run businesses over large areas.

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