On May 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law. This act was designed to grant public land to small famers at low cost. Any application that was head of the household, at least 21 years of age and willing to settle the land for five years and then pay a small filing fee. If they wished to obtain title earlier, they could after six months by paying $1.25 an acre.
The idea of the Homestead Act was proposed much earlier in 1850 but southern congressmen didn’t want small famers to upset the Southern slave system. After the passage of the Act on May 20, 1862, people raced to file land claims. By the end of the Civil War, 15,000 land claims had been made.
Most homesteaders were farmers from Europe or the eastern United States with experience who wanted to leave the crowds behind. By 1900, the claims reached 600,000 and 80 million acres of public land were issued.
Claims continued to be made into the 20th century; however with the changes to American agriculture in the 1930s and 1940s, the small individual homesteads were replaced with much larger farms.