American Banking and the Transportation Revolution before the Civil War

JEREMY ATACK, MATTHEW JAREMSKI, PETER L. ROUSSEAU
THE JOURNAL OF ECONOMIC HISTORY (2014): 943-986

Abstract: Studies have shown a connection between finance and growth, but most do not consider how financial and real factors interact to put a virtuous cycle of economic development into motion. As the main transportation advance of the nineteenth century, railroads connected established commercial centers and made unsettled areas along their routes better candidates for development. We measure the strength of links between railroads and banks in seven Midwest states using an annual transportation geographic information system (GIS) database linked to a census of banking. These data indicate that those counties that already had a bank were more likely to see their first railroad go through over the next decade, while new banks tended to enter a county a year or two after a railroad was built. The initial banking system thus helped establish the rail system, while the rapid expansion of railroads helped fill in the banking map of the American Midwest.