Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

Turbulence and Continuity


People in the Upper Midwest adapted with remarkably little delay to the new epoch. They embraced the new transportation and communication technologies quickly and used them to create increased income, savings, and wealth. In the process they transformed the landscapes and the maps of the region once more. This time it was not a change from natural wilderness to settlement but a transformation of the settlement itself. The first half-century, 1870-1920, had been dominated by land expansion, immigration, and rapid population growth. Now the region turned to a new half-century dominated by land improvement, emigration, and economic growth.

The Transportation Explosion

During this new half-century highways became the ubiquitous, national, general-purpose carrier of people and goods. The swelling fleet of cars and trucks first replaced buggies and wagons in the short-haul business. Then they entered the long-haul market and captured the passenger traffic and much of the general cargo from the railroads. The number of buggies in the nation dropped from 30 million to virtually zero in 60 years, while the number of registered automobiles- rose from 9 million to 120 million. At the same time, the number of horse-drawn wagons fell from 20 million to near zero, and the number of registered trucks rose from one million to 35 million. Between 1920 and 1980 the highway share of the nation's total ton-miles of freight grew from one percent to 24 percent. Highway passenger-miles grew from 39 percent to 85 percent.45


Paving was the key, and many other improvements followed. Construction crews spun a 2-million-mile web of blacktop and concrete in the United States between 1920 and 1980. The total national road mileage outside cities increased only about 10 percent, but the surfaced mileage grew 550 percent. Maps show several Upper Midwest examples of this spectacular change (Figure 24). A 10-county area in northwestern Iowa had only 500 miles of surfaced roads, mostly gravel, as recently as 1928. By 1980 the same area had 2,000 miles of paved highways. Improvements were made everywhere in those counties, but the paved road network is 50 percent more dense on the glacial-drift plains than it is in the unglaciated hill country. Public investment in roads, like private investment in farm improvements, concentrated on the best land. Road improvements accompanied the gradual shift of agricultural productivity away from the areas near the Mississippi River, which had the advantage of an early start, to the upland prairie areas, which had the long-run advantage of level land and deeper soil. Across the state, in a 12-county area of northwestern Iowa, 2,300 miles of pavement in 1980 replaced about 40 miles of pavement and 560 miles of gravel in 1928.46


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Figure 24. Transformation of State Highway Networks in the Auto Era. (4 pages)





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Figure 24, continued. The system grew from a few poorly connected segments of gravel road in the mid-1920s t a dense, integrated grid of pavement in 1980. Comparative mileage of mid-1920s gravel and 1980 pavement in the five different areas shown was 40 miles and 500 miles in northwestern Iowa, 500 and 5,000 in northwestern Minnesota, 300 and 1,500 in northwestern North Dakota and adjacent Montana, and 600 and 3,200 in northern South Dakota. Source: note 43.


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Figure 24, continued. Transformation of State Highway Networks in the Auto Era.






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Figure 24, continued.




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    The change was even more striking in the areas of more recent settlement. In 15 northwestern Minnesota counties overlapping the Red River Valley, the Big Bog, and the moraine-and-lake country, more than 5,000 miles of pavement in 1980 replaced 500 miles of gravel in 1925. Roads had been improved at the same density in both the flat Red River Valley and the rough moraine-and-lake country. The improved roads reached large grain farms, small dairy farms, and recreational lake areas alike.  Highways were less improved in the Indian reservations, but they crossed the Big Bog to join towns and farming districts on either side. In a vast area of northwestern North Dakota and adjacent Montana, about 1,500 miles of paved highway in 1980 contrasted with only 300 miles of gravel in 1923. And in a comparable area of northern South Dakota 3,200 miles of pavement had replaced about 600 miles of gravel. The investment there was heaviest east of the Missouri River, in the area of highest population density and agricultural productivity. Nevertheless, by east river standards, there was nearly twice as much pavement west of the river as population and land productivity would justify. The high level of west river improvements was possible because the formula for distributing highway tax money takes into account need as well as ability to pay. In part, highway funds serve to redistribute income from the more productive to the less productive areas. Unlike the railroad map, the road map in part reflects the role of the state as a community organization to share resources for the common benefit. Because the public built it, the highway network was a social and political as well as an economic enterprise.

Unlike the national rail network in yet another way, the new highway system was not hierarchical. As the road network improved, it became much less necessary to go through a few central junctions to ship or travel from one place to another. The railroad network was dominated by lines radiating from a few preeminent ports on the seacoast, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi River system, and a few major interior centers such as Denver. In contrast, the highway system included not only many of those radial routes but also a dense grid developed along the township, range, and section lines. Most vehicles can move without interruption anywhere on the grid, as shown by a few Upper Midwest examples. The fastest route from Fargo to Sioux Falls in the railroad era went into the Twin Cities and back out to Sioux Falls —470 miles, two changes of train, two railroad companies. In the highway era there is a direct route-245 miles, no transfers. The fastest route from Devils Lake, North Dakota, to Bismarck in the railroad era went to Fargo, then to Bismarck-360 miles, one change of trains, two different railroad companies. In the highway era the route is direct—175 miles, no transfers. Under the old circumstances of travel, there was less tendency for business contacts to develop between Sioux Falls and Fargo or between Devils Lake and Bismarck. If someone wanted to transact business with both Fargo and Sioux Falls, a Twin Cities location was best. Or if a firm wanted to serve both Bismarck and Devils Lake, either a Fargo or a Twin Cities location had an advantage. To be sure, the established large populations at the major rail-era cities created a great deal of inertia for the transportation system. Nevertheless, the highways exerted a powerful pull toward decentralization. Within urban areas the decentralizing effects of the auto and truck are well known: troubled downtowns; suburbanization of homes, shopping, and industry. But, in fact, highway transportation triggered a breakdown of hierarchical relationships by opening new lines of commerce and decentralization at every scale throughout the system. Getting out of the mud was a simple goal and perhaps one of the most widely held in American social history. But it took half a century and at least $40 billion (at 1980 levels) to attain the goal in the Upper Midwest alone. And
along the way, the settlement pattern was shaken to its roots.


     In the same half-century the railroads were transformed from generalists to specialists. While total annual passenger-miles by all modes of travel increased nationally more than tenfold in 60 years, the railroads' share dropped from 48 percent to less than one percent. Freight ton-miles increased nearly fivefold in the same period. But the rail share decreased from 86 percent to 36 percent. The railroads virtually went out of the passenger business, and in freight they specialized increasingly in long hauls, large shipments, and bulk commodities. Average locomotive and freight car mileage per day tripled; specialized types of cars proliferated; efficiency in freight handling increased sharply with specialization.

Meanwhile, virtually all spending for maintenance and replacement of track was concentrated on selected main lines. In most years since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the new rail laid was not enough to replace even three percent of the first track mileage. At that rate the average track would have to last sixty to one hundred years. If half the system was being replaced even on an average 30-year cycle, the other half would never be replaced. From the record it is clear that at least since the early years of highway competition, no less than half the nation's railroad mileage has been in the process of creeping abandonment. The nadir of maintenance occurred in the 1950s. Since then capital improvement on many main lines has increased, and there has been more widespread acceptance of abandonment of both branch lines and duplicating long-haul main lines. Of the nation's 1920 rail mileage, 9 percent had been abandoned by 1950, another 17 percent by 1980. Those trends are reflected in the Upper Midwest. Many branch lines have disappeared. 
One of the multiple transcontinental main lines has been pulled up most of the way across Montana; another has been virtually abandoned between St. Cloud, Minnesota, and the Twin Cities. There are other cases; and miles of barely visible, rusting rails and rotting ties foreshadow more to come.47

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Figure 25. Pipe Lines in the Upper Midwest, late 1970s. The network joined norther Great Plainsoil and gas fields with Twin Cities and Eastern markets. It also tied the Twin Cities to oil and gas sources in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Source: note 47.




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Figure 26. Location of the Twin Cities in the Busiest U.S. Air Corridors, 1983. Almost every high-order metropolis was now linked directly with all others (2 pages) (above). The Twin Cities had become the regional gateway to a truly national system. But most flights linked the strongest centers (at right). While the air age opened new opportunities, it also reflected established patterns. Source: note 48.




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Figure 26, continued.




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   Other, competing specialists have further divided the massive stream of intercity traffic. For the nation as a whole, pipelines account for 16 percent of the total ton-miles of freight;
inland waterways, 14 percent; and air freight, less than one percent. Their combined shares exceed the trucking total and nearly equal the railway total. While automobiles account for 85 percent of the passenger-miles, airlines have taken 13 percent, leaving the remaining 2 percent to buses. On the Upper Midwest map, the pipeline pattern is somewhat reminiscent of the historic railroad pattern, with major east-west corridors passing through the Twin Cities and Twin Ports areas, another major corridor southward from the Twin Cities, independent connections south and west from Montana, and branch lines reaching out to the smaller cities (Figure 25). The lines join northern Great Plains oil, gas, and lignite fields with Twin Cities and Eastern markets, and they tie the Twin Cities to oil and gas sources in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Water transportation is confined to two historic routes-Lake Superior and the Mississippi River below the Twin Cities.

   Air routes, in one way, are most analogous to the historic railroad pattern. The Twin Cities are the regional hub of an old-fashioned,
radial, hierarchical system. The fastest scheduled routes from most smaller cities in the region to most others, or to most other high-order metropolitan areas nationwide, pass through Minneapolis-St. Paul. But, in another way, the air routes bear the least resemblance to historic patterns. In the railroad heyday, few people could even dream of today's direct links from the Twin Cities to every other high-order American metropolis and to the major world air hubs at London and Tokyo (Figure 26).4S

   The railroads, pipelines, waterways, and airways are not the only specialized carriers.
More than 2 million miles of wire have been strung across the region to carry energy and messages. Electric power lines nationwide delivered the energy equivalent of 250 million tons of coal in 1980, compared with only 4 million tons in 1920. The Upper Midwest high-voltage transmission grid links the major urban and industrial markets and their neighboring coal-fired or nuclear generating stations, the complex of giant thermal-generating stations on the North Dakota lignite fields and Montana coal fields, and the large hydroelectric stations on the Missouri, the Columbia, and Manitoba's part of the Canadian Shield (Figure 27). Meanwhile, in 1981 for the nation as a whole long-distance inter-city phone calls exceeded the total number of first-class letters. Sixty years earlier the number of first-class letters was 30 times the number of long-distance calls. Long-distance traffic increased fiftyfold during that period, while the volume of first-class mail increased only fourfold. A proportionate shift occurred in the Upper Midwest.49

   If specialization was one theme in the transportation explosion, another theme was acceleration. Average freight speeds tripled; average passenger speeds increased two- to threefold by land, sixteenfold by air. Instant communication became available to almost everyone at almost everyplace. As a result, the geographical service area reached out farther
from every urban center, and more commerce was possible between the centers. A revolutionary increase occurred in the amount of business that could be done, and a sharp decrease took place in the number of places needed to do it. In that situation the railroad-era settlement pattern had suddenly become extremely unstable.


Through this half-century of revolutionary change, the Upper Midwest regional circulation pattern persisted. A 1960 map of longdistance telephone traffic showed that the region of dominant flow to the Twin Cities still extended from the Bear Paws in Montana to the Porcupines in Michigan and from northern Iowa to the Canadian border (See Figure 4). Strong, though not dominant, ties reached out farther, to the eastern and western edges of the banking region. Fifteen years later another map of telephone traffic repeated the earlier pattern (Figure 28). It also showed the strong interaction that had developed between the Upper Midwest, Colorado, and the inter-mountain Southwest. An analysis of parcel post origins and destinations in 1965 produced a like pattern (Figure 29). In 1983 the region was confirmed yet again on a map of the Twin Cities share of airline flights originating at smaller cities in the Middle West and Great Plains (Figure 30). The area of Minneapolis-St. Paul air traffic dominance was almost identical with the area of railway mail dominance in 1924.50

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Figure 27. Major Electric Power Transmission Lines, 1970s. The grid linked major markets with neighboring coal-fired and nuclear generating stations and with resource-based power plants at major hydroelectric dams and the Northern Plains coal and lignite fields. Source: note 47.


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Figure 28. Phone Traffic: Twin Cities Focus, 1975. The pattern reflected the outlines of the Upper Midwest primary region and strong interregional ties with Chicago, Detroit, and the Southwest. Source: note 50.




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Figure 29. Parcel Post: Twin Cities Focus, 1965. The map outlines, for the cities shown, the region of dominant parcel post flow to the Twin Cities and competing high-order urban areas at Chicago-Milwaukee, Denver, and Seattle-Portland. Source: note 50, Post Office Department.




Just as the railway mail flow had indicated the amount of business transacted between the Twin Cities, the region, and the rest of the world in 1924, so also the flow of long-distance phone calls probably reflected the same relations in 1975. The torrent of messages was still there and still growing. It was just moving on the phone lines instead of on racks of mail bags in the railway postal cars.  The phone call pattern indicated that perhaps 35 percent of the Minneapolis-St. Paul basic economy in 1975 depended on business with the rest of the region, compared with 55 percent a half-century earlier. The other 65 percent depended on business with the rest of the United States and the rest of the world, compared with 45 percent 50 years earlier. But that was only one way to look at the change. To be sure, the region's importance to the metropolis had declined in relative terms, but it grew in absolute terms. Between 1924 and 1975, Twin Cities personal income, in constant 1975 dollars, rose from about 3 billion to about 13 billion. Thus the region accounted for 55 percent of a $3-billion economy, or about 1.7 billion, in 1924; and it accounted for 35 percent of a $13-billon economy, or about 4.6 billion, in 1975.51

From the 1940s into the 1970s, the metropolis grew faster than the remainder of the Upper Midwest. It did so in part by increasing its interaction with the rest of the region. Of all the business done in the rest of the region in 1975, it appears that about 13 percent was transacted with the Twin Cities, compared with 10 percent 50 years earlier. That change probably reflected increased trade with Iowa and northwestern Wisconsin which more than offset a somewhat weaker link with Montana and western South Dakota.52

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Figure 30. Regional Air Service to the Twin Cities Hub, 1983. The area of dominance is almost identical with the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of railway mail dominance in 2924. Source: note 48.




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Although the regional pattern persisted, it did so in a shrunken and more interactive world. That meant more competition. The region's hub airport provided a good vantage point from which to consider what happened. In 1983, Twin Cities International was one of 35 major airports in the United States. Together those 35 hubs handled more than one-third of the country's scheduled airline departures and more than two-thirds of all travelers. The Twin Cities were one among 29 high-order metropolitan complexes that together contained nearly two-thirds of the nation's people and transacted more than two-thirds of its business.  Likewise, the region the Twin Cities hub airport served was one of 29 metropolis-centered regions which, together, encompassed the entire national competitive economy. The Upper Midwest's regional air hub was a crossroads in a dense network of routes that covered the map of the United States. Although air service was concentrated in an East Coast-California corridor, to a remarkable degree the routes connected each of the high-order metropolitan centers directly with all of the others and symbolized fast, intense, unending transfers of knowledge, talent, and capital among those centers and regions. Every place could feel quickly the shocks of new products, organizational arrangements, and investments at other places in the network. Thus the result of the transportation explosion was not only more competition but also more instability—more turbulence in the complex forces that kept changing the fortunes of each metropolis and region.

And, of course, the network was really worldwide. Three American hub airports-New York, Miami, and Los Angeles—were among the world's top-ranking international air transportation centers. Two hundred thirty non-stop or one-stop flights every week linked the Twin Cities to those international gateways in 1983. A dozen other American metropolitan centers had a significant number of direct flights to overseas and Canadian centers. The Twin Cities were one of that group, in a modest way. And they were directly linked to the other international hubs by more than 1,000 flights each week. The major air hubs on the world map were also the main centers of international business transactions, whether private or public. Those transactions added further to the relentless change that pulsated through the transportation and communication network. They had further complicated the competitive, unstable environment of the Upper Midwest.

In 1920 the region was still an empire in a world that was much less accessible and more segmented. By 1980 it had become a kind of neighborhood, or community, in a world that was much more interactive and seemingly even more uncertain. People and institutions in the region have adapted to those environmental changes. Individually and collectively, they have made decisions and taken actions that maintained some of their legacies yet dramatically transformed the landscape. Much of the adaptation was reflected in the changing maps of population.

The Shift in National Migration Patterns

By 1980 the total population of the Upper Midwest reached nearly 8 million. One-third of the total lived within 100 miles of the Twin Cities metropolitan airport, and two-thirds lived east of the James River Valley and west of the upper Wisconsin.

But the long-term trends had changed. A slowdown in overall growth had accompanied a dramatic shift in large-scale migration. Between 1870 and 1920, population streamed into the region. Net immigration was 3 million, and the total population increase was 5 million. In the auto era the flow was reversed. Between 1920 and 1980, net emigration was 1.25 million, while the total increase dropped to 2.2 million—less than half the rate in the railroad era.


As a result of the migraiton patterns, the population became much more homogeneous. By 1980 almost 98 percent were American-born. More than 70 percent were born in the Upper Midwest. Another 11 percent were born on the West Coast, and many of those were returning to the homeland of their Upper Midwest parents. European-born population dropped from one million in 1920 to 100,000 in 1980. Most of that much smaller number were the last of the early twentieth-century immigrants who were still alive. European-born made up only about one percent of the population in most counties. The figure was 3 or 4 percent in areas of sharp population decline —where large numbers of young people had departed and elderly survivors made up a significant part of the population-and in western and northern counties that were in the last wave of pre-World War I settlement. Small but significant European migration continued only in growing urban centers of international business employment or universities. Thus virtually the entire population of the region was now not only white but also English-speaking.53

   Within that relatively homogeneous mass several small groups emerged as visible minorities. The growing Asian-born population had become nearly two-thirds as large as the small European-born component by
1980-a reflection of the nation's changing world orientation (Figure 31). About half of the region's Asians were refugees from the Vietnam War. Many of the other half, like the small continuing stream from Europe, were attracted by the universities and international business employment. The remainder of the foreign-born were virtually all Canadians. While about one-fifth of the Canadian-born lived in the Twin Cities, most were in towns and cities within 200 miles of the international boundary.



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Figure 31. Asian-Born Population, 1980. Refugees from the Vietnam War were living mainly in the Twin Cities. Others were attracted by several state universities and international business firms. Source: U.S. Census of Population, 2980.



As another result of the migration shift, Indian population in 1980 outnumbered European-born whites for the first time since before the Civil War. The census count of 157,000, though still fraught with uncertainty, was probably the most accurate ever taken. Reported growth was nearly 50 percent in the decade from 1970 to 1980. About two-thirds of the increase could be accounted for only by immigration from other parts of the United States or by improved counting—probably the latter. Nearly two-thirds of the total lived in counties with reservations (Figure 32). Most of the others were about equally divided between the Twin Cities and a group of six smaller metropolitan areas including Great Falls, Billings, Rapid City, Bismarck-Mandan, Sioux Falls, and Duluth-Superior. Thus there has been relatively little mobility since the tribes were pinned to their reservations at the close of the rail-building era. What mobility there was consisted mainly of oscillation between the reservations and a few urban ghettos. With the high growth rate, Indians had become a majority of the population in several western counties and significant minorities in seven metropolitan areas. In fact, all the net growth of Great Falls in the 1970s was accounted for by the increase in Indian population.

   Meanwhile, immigrant minorities of 62,000 Blacks and 62,000 Hispanics lived in the region in 1980. Their combined numbers
equaled nearly 80 percent of the Indian population and exceeded the number of European-born (Figure 33). Ninety-one percent of the Black population lived in the region's metropolitan counties — 80 percent in the Twin Cities alone, and most of the others at major military air bases in six smaller urban areas. The Hispanic population had the same geographic pattern, but there were additional clusters in smaller urban labor markets —some in the Western Montana Valleys and some in the sugar beet areas of the Red River Valley and canning vegetable areas of the Corn Belt, where many had come initially to labor in the fields. The Black civilian immigrants have come mainly from Midwestern and Eastern cities, while most of the Hispanic civilians moved north from the irrigated vegetable- and fruit-growing lands of south Texas and intermediate valleys of the mid-continent.

   The persistence of the segregated, comparatively immobile Indian communities in the auto era is just one reminder that problems were created, and problems left unresolved, in the spectacular transformation of the region since 1870. At the same time, the immigrant Black, Hispanic, and Asian groups are only a very small example of the vast auto-era increase in the nation's population mobility. The urbanization of both the Indians and the immigrant minorities was especially symbolic.
After 1920 the Upper Midwest was no longer an open land frontier for a massive immigrant stream. That frontier was closed. But the accelerated world circulation system opened new horizons and opportunities. Internal migration was redistributing the American population along new lines of urban development in every part of the country.54



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Figure 32. American Indian Population, 1980. American Indians outnumbered European-born in the region for the first time since 1860. They accounted for a high percentage of the population in counties near the larger reservations (top map). But about one-third of the region's total number were minorities in the Twin Cities and six smaller metropolitan areas (bottom map). Source: U.S. Census of Population, 2980.




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Figure 33. Black and Hispanic Populations, 1980. These two groups combined exceeded the number of European-bom and were approaching the number of Indians in 1980. Source: U.S. Census of Population, 1980.



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The Upper Midwest's slower growth and net out-migration since 1920 could imply that the population became more stable. But that has not been so. The gross numbers have hidden a complex, turbulent process. Like any region, the Upper Midwest has always been something of a revolving door. The people moving in and out have embraced every age, income, and occupation group. They arrive and depart in search of work, security, stability, education, or experience. The distinctive thing about Upper Midwest migration in this era has been the reduced number of people arriving and the higher proportion of people leaving. In the 1960s and 1970s, nearly 60 percent of all movers were under age 30; two-thirds of those were under 25. Overall employment growth in the region has been enough to absorb only about two-thirds of the natural increase in that age range. The other third has eventually sought jobs elsewhere. In recent years, another 10 percent of the people who have moved have been 65 years old or more. The retirement age group has become much more able to head for the Sun Belt since the advent of pension and annuity programs on a large scale in the 1920s and 1930s. The remaining one-third of the movers were in the least mobile, 30 to 65 age range. In that bracket migration to and from the region has been about in balance, but normal changes in health, employment opportunities, and family circumstances have kept part of the population in motion at all times.

   There is a great deal of trial-and-error in the migration process. In recorded Upper Midwest experience, the total number of moves in and out has been at least 4 or 5 times and as much as 30 times the net migration over an average five-year period. Thus the net shifts have been the result of relatively small imbalances in a constant, large stream of movers. In the four full states, total moves in and out per decade have averaged 20 percent to 40 percent of state total population. Births and deaths have added further to the turnover. In a way the history of each place is a demographic stream flowing through time —a turbulent mixing zone of continuous, simultaneous inflows and outflows. For example, the Minnesota population grew 1.1 million between 1950 and 1980. But more than 6.1 million moved in, moved out, were born, or died (Figure 34). North Dakota net growth during the same period was only 34,000 - a seemingly static population. But 1.4 million people were born, died, or otherwise arrived or departed! Little wonder that the thirtieth anniversary high school reunion finds itself gathered in a city of strangers.55

   Yet a current of continuity runs down the
middle of the demographic stream. Somehow, amid all the coming and going, a significant number of people develop the memories, understanding, and commitment necessary to hold places together. How does that spirit develop? And how does it keep alive, in touch with the environment, sensitive to change, yet also sensitive to history? Lifelong individual efforts help. But ultimately it depends upon an ongoing process of community formation and re-formation. Both natives and newcomers are inducted continuously, and people of all ages and backgrounds teach and learn from one another. Statistically the states look like little more than big transient camps. But the current of continuity—the spirit of community — makes them much more than either statistics or camps.


Net outflow has exceeded net inflow in every state in the region since the 1920s, and in the Dakotas since the 1910s. The first detailed study of the process covered the period from 1955 to 1960. At that time, four corridors accounted for 85 percent of the moves to and from other parts of the United States. The net flow was out of the region in all four corridors. The busiest migration routes led west and southwest to the Pacific Coast, Denver, Arizona, and New Mexico. That corridor carried 36 percent of all the migration to and from the Upper Midwest. Almost as important, with 35 percent of the migrants, was the corridor to Milwaukee and Chicago, and eastward through other major metropolitan employment centers to Boston, New York, and Washington. A third corridor, with 10 percent of the migrants, ran southward to St. Louis and Kansas City, and on to New Orleans, Dallas, and south Texas. Another 7 percent of all migrants moved between the Upper Midwest and the Southeast. The remaining 12 percent of domestic moves were between states of the region and neighboring Iowa and Nebraska.56

The different streams varied somewhat in their population characteristics. Both the southern and western corridors carried people in every age, occupation, and income group. A high proportion of the streams to and from the East were professionals, technicians, salespersons, or managers in large national business organizations and the federal government. Retirees and military made up the greater part of the southeastern flow.  Meanwhile, foreign migration—not only military but also business and professional people and students — equaled 10 percent of domestic migration, notwithstanding the region's deep interior location.


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Figure 34. The Demographic Stream 1950-1980. While Minnesota's population grew a little more than one million, more than 6 million arrived or departed by way of the moving van, stork, or hearse. North Dakota's population grew only 34,000, but more than 1.4 million were born, died, or moved in or out. A small current of community continuity runs through the turbulent stream. Source: note 55.


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Figure 35. Changing Migration to and from Upper Midwest States 1950s-1970s. Major features are the long-standing net movement from the region to the Intermountain and Pacific West, the growing net movement to the South, and the reversal of long-standing trends resulting in a net movement from the Northeast and Lower Midwest to Minnesota and a net movement from California to the Montana Rockies. Sources: notes 55, 58; U.S. Census of Population, 1980.



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Figure 36. Farm Enlargement, 1920-1978. (2 pages) Within the region's cropland corridor, average farm size nearly doubled in the Corn Belt and Red River Valley counties, increased three- to fivefold in the Great Plains counties. Sources: U.S. Census of Agriculture, 1920 and 1978.



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Figure 36, continued.





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Table 1. Changes in Migration into and out of Minnesota and North Dakota, 1950s-1970s (In Thousands)





Table 2. Changes in Migration into and out of Montana, 1950s-1970s (In Thousands)




Migration today is still concentrated in those same corridors. But some changes in volume and direction have occurred (Figure 35). The flow to and from Chicago and the East has increased slightly. But the direction of net movement has reversed sharply. A weak outflow from the region has changed to a strong inflow (Tables 1-2). Meanwhile, migration to and from the Southeast has more than doubled. The increase probably reflects not only more retirees to Florida but also more business-related moves to both Florida and the cities of the Georgia and Carolina Piedmont. Migration between the Upper Midwest, Colorado, and the Southwest has grown threefold. Net out-migration in that corridor is four times the 1950s level. In contrast, the volume of flow to and from California has stabilized, and the out-migration to California is down nearly one-half.57

Thus, during this era of adaptation, the Upper Midwest changed from primarily a destination for immigrants to an entrepot in the national shift toward the West and South. The region takes in people from the East and sends people out in somewhat larger numbers to the West and South. The addition to the outflowing stream comes from the region's own well-spring of human energy and talent.  The production of emigrants has come from farms, small towns, and urban centers of all sizes. There has been some tendency for a chain of movement up the hierarchy from farms and small towns to nearby urban places, then with increasing experience and contacts, to larger, more distant places. In any chain of moves, no matter how complex the pattern, there must be some places where the chain starts—where people keep leaving and few or none return. In the Upper Midwest those places have been farms and rural hamlets, and for many years the dominant larger, more distant place was the Twin Cities.58

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The Shift from Farm to City

The region's farm population dropped from 2.7 million in 1920 to under 700,000 in 1980. The events were complicated, with no simple line of causation. But if one element could be singled out, many observers would point to the farm tractor. More power and speed in the fields opened the way to bigger farms, more production for sale or livestock feed, and more dollars earned per farm—but eventually 80 percent fewer people needed to do the farm work (Figure 36-37). To be sure, mechanical improvements were not new. Harvesting machinery and cumbersome steam tractors, for example, had been in use for decades. But the surge in efficiency and mobility of tractive power brought revolutionary changes in the size and variety of other field machinery. That, in turn, brought a surge of growth in both earning power and capital requirements . Higher capitalization meant more land for each farmer, and also opened the way for greatly increased use of scientifically developed seed and a multitude of specialized chemicals. Much has been said about the impact of the automobile on the rural scene. But never forget the tractor.


During this massive reduction of farm labor force, the largest group of off-farm migrants has left at the age of high-school graduation. Some have moved to a nearby urban center, in recent decades most often to one large enough to have a wide range of business and government jobs and a trade school or two. Others have gone directly to distant centers, virtually always in a channel provided by relatives, college enrollment, or military enlistment. At a little older age level, many young farmers have taken jobs in neighboring towns and reduced their farming operations to part-time by selling off livestock or renting part of their land (Figure 38). They have thus contributed to the statistics that show both large farms and small farms increasing in number. Eventually some might quit farming altogether, sell their land, perhaps their houses. For still older farmers, who waited or were caught by circumstances at age 40 to 60, the shift has been hardest. Some have taken menial work in towns. Many have held on. With limited capital and low returns, they have helped to pull down average family income to the comparatively low levels that persist in rural areas. Those past 60 years old have eventually retired - on their farmsteads or in a nearby town, perhaps to sojourn in south Texas during midwinter. In each case, the statistical end result is a decline in the number of farm people and farm operators.

Then there are the survivors. Some have been farm youth who remained; others left for education or nonfarm experience and later returned. Both groups have taken over the fewer, bigger, and more complex units and gradually enlarged them further. There has been a constant renewal process, with an extra surge of new vitality at the end of World War II, when many young men returned from military service and took over from aging parents who had been holding on since the late 1930s. In the 1970s, a segment of the children of those World War II veterans began to take over in turn. By that time the capital requirements had grown still larger. The newest generation found itself in a stormy sea of unstable prices, high costs, and further heavy borrowing. In that generation, even some of the young, energetic, self-selected survivors faced the possibility of having to quit in the 1980s.

Like mechanization, the shift off the farm did not begin with the automobile and tractor era. The wave of net migration out of farming followed the settlement frontier westward across the region, with a 15- to 20-year lag. It set in during the 1880s in the southeastern counties and finally reached the Montana High Line in the 1920s. It was a natural development. As the frontier closed and families matured, the supply of surplus labor grew and the number of new farming opportunities declined. But the rate of change in this era has no precedent.59


While farm population declined 2.1 million, nonfarm numbers grew 4.2 million. In the region's main agricultural corridor from western Wisconsin to northern Montana, the same forces stimulated both changes. Increased capitalization and productivity raised real farm income per square mile two- to threefold (Figure 39). Those square miles of farm land were also square miles of trade territory, nourishing the economies of urban centers. Of course, the remaining farm families developed substantially higher consumption levels than their forebears —in clothing, food, transportation, household goods, and entertainment. But that increase was not enough to compensate on Main Street for the greatly reduced number of farm households.


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Figure 37. Increase in Value of Farm Products Sold per Farm, 1920-1978. (2 pages) While farm size in the Corn Belt and Red River Valley doubled, sales per farm increased five- to sixfold. On the Great Plains, sales grew four- to eightfold, while farm size grew three to five times. Thus, increased income per farm reflected both farm enlargement and increased productivity. Sources: U.S. Census of Agriculture, 2920 and 1978.



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Figure 37, continued.




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Figure 38. Part-Time Farming, 1978. A large and increasing percentage of farmers earn more than half of their income away from the farm. Highways and automobiles have brought virtually all farming areas into the daily range of small towns and city jobs. While many family farms have survived through heavy investment in more land and machinery and often formed family-held corporations, may others have survived through partial merger of the urban and farm labor force. Source: U.S. Census of Agriculture, 2978.


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Beyond that change, however, increased income and commercialization meant that many tasks which had been family work on the old general farm became specialized and transferred to town.  Oats production for horses was transformed into gasoline purchases and delivery for tractors, incidentally freeing an average of 20 percent of the crop acreage for other uses. Horse husbandry gave way to parts and repair shops; woodcutting to fuel oil, bottle gas, and electricity; voluntary road grading to highway maintenance shops and equipment fleets. An unprecedented rural commerce evolved in vehicles, machinery, motors, batteries, chemicals, feed, seed, additives, concentrates, in welding and metal shaping, power and phone line maintenance. There were also gradual, subtle, but important multiplier effects. Professions, business services, financial institutions, public services, and construction gathered and grew around this emerging array of specialized, urbanized, former farmyard tasks. Here and there an office or a shop developed a specialty product and began to sell it though brokers in a regional or national market. Particularly impressive in the industrial directories of Upper Midwest states is the number of manufacturing firms that have sprouted from the metal and machine shops in the farm trade centers. In the Corn, Dairy, and Wheat belts, farming evolved into a gigantic, highly capitalized industrial organization with an incredibly decentralized system of ownership and management and with an intense, efficient network of information. Within that structure the towns evolved as nerve centers, windows on the world, and entrepreneurial seedbeds. They were much more than that, of course, and to some people, much less.


The off-farm movement triggered an avalanche that worked its way through the whole system of towns and cities. While its momentum accelerated in the tractor and trucking era, the avalanche began earlier, when the first generation of frontier children reached working age. The result was the rapid release of surplus quality labor and talent from the rural parts of this culture region for more than 50 years (Figure 40).

   More than half the outflow spilled either directly or through the Twin Cities into the migration corridors to the rest of the nation and the world. But job growth in the Twin Cities both attracted and accommodated at least half a million immigrants from within the region. With the advent of low rural birthrates and increased dispersion of migration, both
the quantity and sharpness of focus have decreased. But, for more than half a century, the regional migration system gave the Twin Cities special access to one of the nation's largest, highest quality surplus labor pools. It also established a dense network of personal and family ties that linked rural and metropolitan places, farms and mercantile offices. A regional community emerged.60



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Figure 39. Growth in Farm Product Sales per Square Mile, 1920-1978. (2 pages) The square miles of farmland were also square miles of trade territory, nourishing the economy of urban centers. Real gross farm income per square mile tripled in the Com Belt and main Dairy areas, doubled in the Great Plains and Flathead Valley, and was virtually stagnant in most other areas. Sources: U.S. Census of Agriculture, 2920 and 1978.



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Figure 39, continued.




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Figure 40. The Migration Field of the Twin Cities in the U.S. Setting, 1960. The shaded area around each high-order metropolis sent the largest number of out-migrants to that urban area, 1955-1960. Source: note 60.



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