The Homestead Act Lesson for Kids: Summary & Facts

Instructor: Laurie Smith
The Homestead Act was a law that gave free government land to people who wanted to move west. Come learn about the law, what people had to do to get the land, and some other interesting facts about it.

The Homestead Act

You see a sign at a pizza place that says free pizza for life! The store owner says you can have free pizza whenever you want it, but you have to do all your chores, like taking out the trash. And your parents have to sign a form that says you're doing what you're supposed to do. If you don't bring in that form, you don't get pizza.

In 1862, that's basically what the U.S. government did, too. But instead of giving away pizza, they gave away land. The Homestead Act was a law that let U.S. citizens, or people wanting to become citizens, file for 160 acres of free land in the west. The amount of land they could have later increased.

One main purpose of this act was to expand the country westward and settle wild lands with farms. Ten percent of the entire United States was settled because of this law.

In order to apply, you had to be at least 21 or the head of a family. This meant that farmers, immigrants, freed slaves, and single women were able to get free land to live on if they moved west. After the Civil War, former Confederate soldiers couldn't get any free land because they had fought against the U.S. government.

Working for Free Land

After a homesteader, or person wanting to settle the land, filed an application, paid fees, and was approved, they moved out to their piece of land. However, just like you have school rules, there were rules for using the land, too.

Homesteaders had to build a house and farm the land for five years. After five years, they had to find two neighbors who would sign a form confirming that they had done what they were supposed to.

Once they turned in this form with the fee, they got a patent for the land, which was a document that gave them total ownership of the property.

A Hard Life

When you're thirsty, you can get a glass of water from the sink. But being a homesteader was not an easy life, and they couldn't just turn on a faucet or go to the store.

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