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Dates That Matter

May 20, 1862

President Lincoln signs the Homestead Act.

 Why does it matter?

Can you imagine getting 160 acres of land for free? To help expand settlement of the West, the United States government gave away land to people who were willing to move west and settle. Homesteaders were required to be 21 years old, to build a house on the land, and to live there for five years. If they met those conditions, the land was theirs. The Homestead Act encouraged settlers to establish nearly 400,000 farms, and by 1900 over 80 million acres of land had been claimed. Just one of those settlers was the family of Laura Ingalls, who grew up to write the popular "Little House on the Prairie" book series.

For more information...

Homestead National Monument of America
A National Park Service monument to the first homestead claimed under the Homestead Act in Nebraska. Under "history and culture" you'll find an overview of the Homestead Act and its impact on American culture, as well as a map of states settled, in part, by homesteaders. The "for kids" section includes some activities and suggested reading about homesteading.

PBS Frontier House: Frontier Life
From the Frontier House series on PBS, this site showcases the lives of the original homesteaders, and the modern day families who tried to recreate those lives for a television reality show.

Educators and Students: The Homestead Act
From the National Archives, a series of teaching activities centered around the Homestead Act, with a focus on the analysis of primary documents.