This series of graphs are from a 34-page document published in 1950, detailing the changes that had occurred in agriculture over the previous 50 years. The report covered changing land use patterns and the major agricultural products produced in the United States during that period, including grain crops, fruits, and livestock. These particular graphs highlight changes to daily life.
Graph 1: This is a line graph showing the decline of the number of horses and mules on farms as the number of tractors on farms increased.
Graph 2: This is a bar graph comparing the number of tractors in use in agriculture to the number of mules and horses. Tractors are reported in the hundreds of thousands and steadily increase from 1920 to 1950. Mules and horses are reported in the millions and steadily decline in numbers in the same time period.
Graph 3: This is a bar graph comparing the number of horses, mules, and tractors in use from 1850 to 1950. The number of horses peaked in 1920 with 20 million. Mules peaked in 1925 at 6 million. Tractors first appear on the graph in 1920 and steadily increase.
Graph 4: This is a bar graph comparing the percentage of reporting farms using a tractor, motor truck, or automobile. In 1920, 30 percent of reporting farms had an automobile, while less than five percent of reporting farms had a motor truck or tractor in 1920. All three categories increased steadily after 1920.
Graph 5: This is a bar graph comparing the percentage of farms with electricity and telephone service. In 1920, almost 40 percent of reporting farms had telephone service. In 1940 that percentage had declined to less than 25 percent before increasing to around 40 percent in 1950. In 1920, less than 10 percent of reporting farms had electricity. That percentage steadily grew to almost 80 percent of reporting farms had electricity in 1950.
Graph 6: This is a line graph comparing the total U.S. population to the farm population beginning with 1910. The graph shows a steady increase in U.S. total population from around 90 million people to around 150 million people by 1950. Meanwhile, farm population declined from around 30 million people to around 25 million people in the same forty years.
Graph 7: This is also a line graph, comparing agricultural workers to non-agricultural workers from 1850 to 1950. In 1850, agricultural workers made up over 60 percent of the U.S. workforce. By 1900, agricultural workers were less than 40 percent of the total workforce. By 1950, they were less than 15 percent of the workforce.
- According to the Commission on Country Life, farm families were doing better than they ever had before. What evidence in these graphs would support that claim?
- The Commission on Country Life also indicated that farm life was not living up to its possibilities. What evidence in these graphs would support that claim? Cite at least three of the graphs to support your claim.
- Review the features from Chicago, Fort Dodge and Iowa City that were identified as indications of modern life. Were farmers before 1920 sharing in those features of modern life? Provide evidence to support your answer.
- Based on these graphs, would farm life after 1920 have likely lived up to its possibilities? Use evidence from at least three graphs to support your answer.
"Changes in Agriculture, 1900-1950,” Agriculture in 1950, U.S. Census Bureau, pp. 78-82, 99, 1950. Courtesy of U.S. Census Bureau