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How Geography Influenced the Early United States

How Geography Influenced the Early United States
Coming up next: Factors Influencing Geographic Patterns in the United States

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  • 00:01 Early Colonization of the US
  • 00:57 Difficulties with…
  • 1:50 Gold Rush & The Pacific
  • 3:03 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 the settlements of the United States developed and how the geography of the natural landscape impacted the positions of those settlements. A short quiz will follow.

Early Colonization of the U.S.

When people first tried to colonize what is now the United States, they moved there for many reasons: a chance at a new life, the desire for their own plot of land, escape from religious persecution, and others. But life in the early colonies was hard. Many of the first attempted colonies failed because of disease, starvation, lack of resupply, war, or conflict with Native Americans.

When colonies were finally established, they were mostly along the East Coast. This is because having access to the sea was important to bring in supplies, especially in those early days. Once the U.S. could produce its own goods, this wouldn't be needed, but for a long time, the colonies were tethered to the sea.

Later, settlers moved west to find their own plots of land and farm larger quantities of food. Farming needs rather a lot of land so spreading out made a lot of sense. But the further west people expanded, the more difficulties they encountered.

Difficulties with Westward Expansion

The Great Plains in the Midwest were especially fertile, having been originally a sea bed millions of years ago, and so it was prime land for farming. This was plenty of reason to head west. More remote areas also lacked competition, so you could claim a lot of land for yourself. The government even encouraged it, giving away 160 acres of land to those adventurous enough to head west. But there were difficulties, too. The Great Plains might have been fertile, but they were also dry. Irrigation was difficult, but necessary. Without water, there would be no crops.

Moving even further west, things only got worse as people encountered deserts to the south and the height of the Rocky Mountains to the north. Moving west became extremely challenging beyond the plains. It might have taken a long time for Americans to find their way to the Pacific Ocean, if it wasn't for one further natural feature: the presence of gold.

Gold Rush & The Pacific

The gold rush was a rapid movement of people to newly discovered gold fields, especially in California, around 1849. When gold started being discovered, many saw their chance to get rich. Businessmen, prospectors, miners, and even regular people moved west at a rate never before seen. The presence of these natural resources also encouraged the building of the railroad, which would increase movement west even more.

But it wasn't just gold. Oil fields were also found, as was iron ore and coal. It would turn out that the U.S. contained one of the largest supplies of coal in the world. Coal might not be as exciting, but it did last. The gold fields would be tapped much faster than the coal would ever be used. Thanks to the gold rush, there are still ghost towns scattered around the Western U.S. to this day, where people left as soon as the gold dried up.

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