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Westward Expansion for Kids: Definition & Timeline

Instructor: Alicia Taylor

Alicia has taught students of all ages and has a master's degree in Education

From 1803 to 1890, the United States exploded with growth. It spread out from coast to coast, becoming one of the biggest countries in the world. The story of America's Westward Expansion is full of explorers, gold, and even text messages.

The United States Grows

In 1800, the United States did not look the way it does now. It was much smaller. Instead of sprawling out from east coast to west coast, the whole country extended from the Atlantic Ocean to what we now call the Midwest. During the next 100 years, the tiny nation would grow. Today, we call this growth Westward Expansion.

The Louisiana Purchase

The first big step in Westward Expansion was the Louisiana Purchase. The President, Thomas Jefferson, bought 828,000 square miles of land from France. This land, called the Louisiana Territory, was just west of the United States.

President Jefferson got a great deal, since each acre of land only cost 3 cents. That means enough land for a football field cost less than a nickel!

The Louisiana Purchase was the first major step toward Westward Expansion.
Lousiana Purchase

Lewis and Clark

Jefferson was eager to find out what treasures the Louisiana Territory held. He sent out two explorers, Lewis and Clark. By 1805, the team made a map that stretched all the way to the west coast.

The Oregon Trail

Some of the land Lewis and Clark explored didn't belong to the U.S. yet. For example, the Oregon territory belonged to England. In 1841, Americans started moving there using the Oregon Trail. About 300,000 people traveled in covered wagons, with their families and everything they owned. The journey took 4-6 months.

In 1848, America bought the Oregon territory from England.

Texas and Mexico

Much of the land from Texas to the west coast belonged to Mexico. But in 1835, the people in Texas decided they didn't want to be part of Mexico anymore.

The people of Texas fought against Mexico and created their own country, called the Republic of Texas. They wanted to join the United States.

In 1845, the United States finally took in Texas. But Mexico still wanted Texas to be theirs, so the two countries fought the Mexican-American War. At the end of the war, all of the northern lands Mexico had owned became part of the United States.

The Mexican-American War and the Oregon Territory Purchase added a lot of land to America.
Full Map

Getting People to the West

Even though the United States had grown, it still had a problem - almost no one was living in the new states! The government decided to give land to Americans. The Homestead Act gave 160 acres of western land to any American, as long as the person promised to improve it.

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