Frank Albert Fetter.

Source book in economics, selected and ed. for the use of college classes online

. (page 8 of 30)
Online LibraryFrank Albert FetterSource book in economics, selected and ed. for the use of college classes → online text (page 8 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

communities by improving certain roads. The cost of hauling
should be considered in connection with expenditures for build-
ing and improving roads. The size of loads might be in-
creased, without a proportional increase in cost of hauling
per 100 pounds, by using larger wagons with more horses or
by driving heavier and stronger horses or mules; and the
cost of hauling might be further reduced by quickened methods
^ of loading and unloading.

Improvements which would reduce the cost of hauling by
one-tenth would effect a saving of $7,000,000 in hauling from
farms to shipping points in the United States the products
and quantities mentioned, and $1,000,000 more would be saved
in the cost of hauling wheat for the use of local mills, to say
nothing of the amounts saved in hauling the unknown surplus
of the crops not mentioned in this table, such as hay, potatoes,
rye, buckwheat, fruit, vegetables, sugar cane, and sugar beets.
It" it costs a farmer 5 cents per bushel to haul his wheat to
the shipping point when he requires one day to make a round
trip, he might save $25 on a crop of 1,000 bushels if he could
make two trips per day; or, if he still made but one trip
a day but could increase the load from 50 to 75 bushels


without adding to the number of horses, he might reduce the
cost of hauling by one-third, thus saving about $17.

The average load of cotton, if increased to twice its present
size and thus made about the same as the average load of
wheat, might be hauled at little more than one-half its pres-
ent cost per 100 pounds. Lowering the average cost of haul-
ing cotton from 16 cents per 100 pounds, as it now seems
to be, to 8 cents, would effect a saving of about 40 cents per
bale, and the total amount saved on a crop equal to that of
1905 would probably exceed $4,000,000.


[In a remarkable little book, Man and the Earth (New York,
1906), Nathaniel S. Shaler, late professor in Harvard University,
surveyed broadly the resources of the earth, showing how some are
inevitably diminishing, and how others may be increased and improved.
In the chapter "The Unwon Lands," the subject of irrigation is treated;
then comes the chapter on drainage, pp. 87-100, which is here re-
printed by kind permission of the author's family and of the pub-
lishers. Fox, Duffield and Co.]

How the waters encroach on the lands. When, in the
process of building the continents, their surfaces are lifted
above the plane of the sea, they normally become dry laud,
and, unless too arid, are fit for the uses of those flowering
plants on which man depends for food. There are, how-
ever, a number of accidents which serve to retain a covering
of water on these fields so as to make them unsuited to the
uses of the higher plant life. The land may rise irregularly,
leaving the depressions on its surface which become lakes.
Like depressions may be formed by the downward-sinking
areas, by the process which geologists term folding. Again,
glacial action, by the irregular wearing of the rocks or the
curious irregular heaps of debris it leaves on the surface,
creates a multitude of hollows, forming lakes, until they are
converted into peat bogs. Yet again, in humid countries
mosses and even reeds may by their matted vegetation hold
the rainfall as in a sponge, so that even hillsides become
mantled with the boggy covering. Still further, the sea-
shores have the amphibious zone of the tides, half land and
half water, where the two "elements," as the ancients termed
them, strive for mastery. The result of these conditions is
that, when the critic man comes to survey the lands and judge



them in general very good, he has to note that much of their
fields have not effectively escaped the primal realm of the
waters — that there is still much for his arts to mend.

Large area reclaimable. It is surprising how large a part
of the what-we-call land is so far occupied by water as to
make it in its natural state unserviceable for agriculture.
In the tropical regions these areas of bog ajad lake are least
extensive; in that realm occupying probably not more than
ten per cent, of the area. But in higher latitudes and in
proportion as we approach the poles a greater part of the
field is permanently inundated, so that from the parallels
of 40° to the limits that climate sets on agriculture somewhere
near one-fourth of the land area is in its primitive condition
unsuited to the uses of man and has to be won to his service
by the devices of the engineer.

Drainage in Europe. In Europe, because of the antiquity
and high grade of its culture, the process of winning the in-
undated lands to use has already gone very far, so far, in-
deed, that in ten centuries the aspect of the land has been
greatly changed. Thus in Great Britain, at the time of Alfred
the Great, near one-third of the area of the island was beset
with marshes or with lands of the bog type. These impene-
trable swamps appear in large measure to have formed the
boundaries of the separate little kingdoms of the Heptarchy,
and to have been even more effective barriers than the open
sea. The redemption of these lands probably began in Saxon
times, if not earlier, but it appears to have gone forward
slowly until the reign of James I, when the population of
England began to press upon the means of subsistence and
the work of draining the fens was rapidly carried on. As
an adventurer in this business Oliver Cromwell, it is said,
had his first clash with his sovereign. Along with others he
had an important drainage concession from the crown, one
that was peculiarly favorable for the reason that a Dutch
company had failed in the same undertaking. When Crom-
well was successful and in a position to profit largely by his


success, the impecunious Charles I appropriated a consider-
able part of his riyhtful gains. It is not unlikely that this
action of the king had in the end to do with his discovery
of the important fact that ''he had a joint in his neck."

In Holland this process of reclaiming- inundated lands has
been carried much further than in any other country. When
agriculture began in this region about the mouth of the Ehine,
probably not one-tenth of the land now tilled was fit for that
use. "What was not covered with morasses lay beneath the
level of the tide. In some fifteen hundred years the stout-
hearted folk have made the most signal conquest ever effected
by man in this winning of a state from the waters of sea
and land. Work of the same nature and hardly less extensive
lias been done all along the lowlands which border the North
Sea and the Baltic. Thus the fields of Northeastern Europe,
in Great Britain, Ireland, the Low Countries, North Germany,
and Scandinavia, which now support the agriculture of at
least thirty million hardy people, have been won from bogs,
marshes, and the bottom of the sea — areas which in America,
save in a local and unimportant way, have been quite over-

Other areas to drain in Europe. The task of winning land
from the waters which has been so well done in Northeastern
Europe and, in some measure, throughout that so-called conti-
nent, is by no means completed. Even in Holland there are
great works still under way which some time during the present
century will make yet further additions of hundreds of square
miles won from the shallows of the sea to its tillable fields.
In Russia there are vast areas awaiting the drainage engineer
to bring them to the service of men so that they may yield
the food for millions of people. Even in Italy, that most
ancient seat of high tillage and of crowded population, there
are extensive projects for reclaiming inundated areas now
under discussion. These facts show us that in the reserves of
land to be won before the world is fully peopled, we have to
reckon largely on the parts of it which are to be reduced to


service by drainage. This reckoning is hard to make, for the
reason that outside of Europe scarcely any attention has been
given to the problems of drainage, so that but an approach
to the truth is attainable.

Draining the sea floor. First let us note that the most
extensive of the inundated lands is the sea floor, and that
from its shallower part next the land the important gains of
Holland have been made. The conditions v^^hich permit such
winning are very common along most seashores; an embayed
area of shallow water, where the tides have a considerable rise
and fall, and where the winds are constant and strong enough
to serve for pumping, is always available; but the bottom
of the area to be drained must afford the materials for a fertile
soil, as it, in fact, very generally does. It is not imperatively
necessary that the shallows lie on the shores of a tidal sea
so long as windmills close set by the margin of the area to be
drained will serve to lower and keep down the water; there
then is only the simple question of time and cost to bring
the dyke's area into tillage.

The drowned valleys. The conditions of embayed waters
of no great depth, and bottoms that will be fertile when
drained, are normally found about the mouths of the larger
rivers. The reason for this is that a recent geological acci-
dent, the newest of all having a world-wide effect, consisted
in a general rise of the sea to the extent of some hundred
feet, due to the upward movement of a portion of the deep-
sea floor. The gain of the sea on the land led to the flood-
ing of the valleys of the greater rivers for a long distance
upward from their ancient mouths; forming such great re-
entrants of the sea as we have well preserved in the admir-
able examples of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. In
many cases these drowned valleys have been so far filled in
with delta deposits, as in the ease of the Mississippi, that the
alluvial plain again projects out into the sea as at its mouth
and at the Nile; more commonly there is an embayment, as
in the case of Mobile Bay. In any event this inundated


valley is certain to have more or less extensive areas of shallow
water which, as iii Holland, may be drained and turned to
cultivated fields.

The work of the mangrove trees. Besides the land won
from the sea by the plants which develop the marine marshes
in the higher latitude, we find in the tropics a group of trees
known as mangroves, which have an even more swift and
effective method of capturing land in shallow embayments.
These trees are fitted to grow in salt-water silt, submerged it
may be by some feet at high tide. They have long runner-
like branches which, as they grow, extend outward and down-
ward into the water of the bays until they touch the bottom,
where they take root and form new crowns and stems which
in like manner send their runners further seaward. In this
way a mangrove swamp will speedily close over a shallow
bay even if it be some miles in width, covering it with a dense
low forest. While the trees are thus marching outward, their
seed, long cylinders in form, with grapples at their lower end,
catch on the bottom as they drift away from the plant that
bore them, rapidly grow to the surface of the water, and found
new plantations. Beneath the very dense growth of the man-
groves the scouring action of the tides and waves is arrested
and a rapid deposit of plant and animal remains takes place,
so that what was sea bottom is soon lifted to the state of a
fresh-water swamp. As there are numerous varieties of man-
groves in the tropical regions, some of which, as in Florida,
extend their range to several degrees further toward the poles,
the area they occupy and the land they have won from the
sea are alike great. There is no basis for a reckoning as to
the extent of their work, but it is evident that in the aggre-
gate these fields must amount to some tens of thousand square
miles, all of which have been brought by these remarkable
plants into the state where the engineer may easily complete
the work of converting them to the uses of man.

Area reclaimable from the sea. Although the basis for
computation is imperfect, it may fairly be reckoned that in


this debatable ground of the shore zone now occupied by mud
flats, marshes, and mangrove swamps, there is a reserve of
land awaiting such work of improvement as has been done
in Holland, amounting to an aggregate area of not less than
200,000 square miles of land which with a fully peopled earth
will be brought into tillage. As this land is of rare fertility
and enduring to the tax of cropping beyond that of any up-
land fields, it has a prospective value as a human asset far ,'
beyond an equal area of ordinary ground. They are likely,
in time, to afford the food for several hundred million people.

Area reclaimable from rivers. Turning now to the areas
of the continents which are occupied by the fresh waters, as
in swamps and lakes, we find a more extensive set of fields
for reclamation than on the seashore belt — and a much greater
variety of problems for the work of the drainage engineer.
First we will consider the clearly limited group of areas which
lie along the great rivers, where the annual floods render the
land untillable. The higher parts of these alluvial plains
where the annual inundations are such as to prevent tillage
are easily dealt with by ordinary dyking, and have been thus
improved in all the great valleys of long-occupied countries.
Yet there remains along the larger streams of Africa, the
Americas, and Northern Asia aggregating several hundred
thousand square miles of naturally fertile land still unwon to
use. A rough reckoning of these areas which gives only ap-
proximate results, indicates that the possible winning in the
ultimate state of culture will amount to not less than 300,000
square miles with a tillage value for the area quite as great
as that which may be had from the gains made on the sea-
shores, or the possible subsistence of many million. If it
should prove possible to till the middle and lower reaches
of the great rivers which flow toward the Arctic Ocean, the
Mackenzie in North America, and the several streams that
traverse Siberia, the aggregate area of useful alluvial land
may be much greater than is indicated by this reckoning.

How glacial lakes were formed. The true morasses, those


inundated fields lying' outside the alluvial fields, are much more
abundant than the winnable flooded ground beside the rivers.
The most common of this group are the bogs formed in the
lakes which gathered in the shallow pits that were shaped by
the irregular disposition of the drift left on the surface of
those areas occupied by the ice in the last glacial period.
AVhen that covering melted away these basins so placed as to
hold water were almost incredibly numerous. Thus, in New
England, when the earth was cleared of the glaciers, the
number of them varying in size from areas of an acre to those
one hundred square miles in extent were to be numbered by
the tens of thousands. The writer has estimated that not less
than ten per cent, of this district was thus covered with tarns
or lakes. Taking the glaciated parts of the world as a whole,
the disturbance of the drainage induced by the ice invasion
probably brought about something like this proportion of
inundated lands where in the earlier times the brooks and
rivers had in their usual manner provided a complete drain-

Growth of peat bogs. As soon as the glacial sheet had
disappeared and the basins held in its debris were filled by
water, a process of closing them began, a process which has
been continued to our own day. Along the shores of each
of those lakes where the waves did not have too much power
to admit of such growth, a species of moss known as sphagnum,
the form familiar in almost any swamp, found a foothold.
The microscopic spores of this plant are readily borne by the
wind for many miles from their parent stations, so that as
fast as the pools were formed, the growth began, and as the
ice sheet retreated the mosses were always ready to set about
their peculiar work. Their task is, indeed, one of the most
extensive and important of those performed by vegetable life.
It is as follows :

Beginning with a delicate mat formed of the intermeshed
fronds, the sphagnum mosses quickly form a shelf of their
living and dead parts which extends outwardly from the shore


and increases in depth until it may be some feet in thickness ;
next the shore it rests upon the bottom, but in deeper water
it floats with its surface a foot or so above the water. From
the lower margin of this raft of moss the dead parts of
the plants fall upon the bottom and by their decay from the
familiar black mud or soft peat which often gathers to the
depth of twenty or thirty feet. Given time — and in a geolog-
ical sense no long period is required — and a lake a mile or
two in diameter will be closed over and solidly filled with the
muck deposit. Only when the lake is of such area that heavy
waves may form on it, which serve to break up the advancing
mat of vegetation, is it preserved from this agent of oblitera-
tion. The result is that by far the greater number of the
glacial lakes formed in New England when the ice of the
last glacial period disappeared have been converted into peat
bogs; probably more than nine-tenths of them have been thus
closed. Further to the northward, where the ice went off in
more recent times, than near its border, the process of occlud-
ing the glacial lakes is naturally less advanced than in New
England. In these we more often find "quaking bogs," i.e.,
instances in which the sheet has closed over the lake, but
where the deposit formed on the bottom has not been built
up to where it supports the mat so that the peat-making
process is complete.

Upland or climbing bogs. The foregoing sketch of the his-
tory of peat morasses formed in lakes needs to be supple-
mented by an account of another method of their develop-
ment, w^hich in many parts of the world where the air is
moist and cool gives rise to even more extensive deposits
— those known as upland or climbing bogs. In this group
the sphagnum begins its growth on the margin of any pool
and extends its sheet away from the water so that it mounts
slopes of considerable steepness, sometimes ascending to
heights of a hundred feet or more in an advance of a mile.
As it grows in thickness, the lower part of the mat dies and
so forms an ever-increasing mass of soft peat on which the


living' tangle rests, holding, as in a sponge, the water needed
for its growth. So effectively does it do this that in times
of heavy rain the bog sv/ells up and occasionally it bursts,
discharging a tide of black mud which flows like a lava stream,
in many instances carrying widespread destruction to farms
antl villages in the valleys through which it flows.

In eil'ect the lields covered by climbing bogs are limited
to regions north and south of the parallels of 40° in either hem-
isphere, for there alone do we And the relatively low tempera-,
ture and the high measure of humidity needed for their
development. They originally mantled a considerable part
of the land now tilled in the northern part of Great Britain,
nearly all of the lower ground in Ireland, and much of the
most fertile portion of Germany and Scandinavia, about the
shores of the North Sea and the Baltic. They still exist in
vast development in Northei'n Russia and Siberia, in Patagonia,
and in Canada. South of Canada, they are so scantily de-
veloped as to have no 'interest from our point of view. In
Africa and Australia they find no place because of the high
temperature or the dryness of the air, both of which con-
ditions prevent the growth of the bog-making mosses.

Area reclaimable from bogs. It is not easy to estimate
the amount of tillable soil which can be won from the fields
now possessed by moss bogs; it may be taken as probable that
the aggregate area exceeds 300,000 square miles; it being,
perhaps, the largest part of the earth's surface which can be
Avon from the covering of water. Should it prove possible
to develop tillage in any considerable part of the tundra of
Siberia the total may much exceed that amount; it may on
those conditions rise to near half a million square miles.

As for the quality of the soil obtained from these peat-
covered fields, experience shows that, though variable, it is
good for a wide range of uses. The fields whence the climbing
bogs have been stripped are of great and enduring fertility.
The level bogs of the deposits which have filled lakes have a
different character; they cannot so readily be brought to


tillage. In fact, it is commonly necessary to strip the mat
of living sphagnum off and then to cover the surface with sand
or mix the upper part with ordinary earth. Thus treated the
ground becomes well suited to a great range of important
plants, especially those reared in market gardens. The in-
teresting industry of cranberry growing is one of those forms
of tillage in which the peat soil is turned to account. In fact
this species of plant will not commercially develop in any
other conditions save those of drained swamps.

Area reclaimable from lakes. One of the largest bodies of
unwon yet winnable lands is that now covered by the waters
of lakes. Their drainable areas are very numerous, especially
so in glaciated districts in the part of North America recently
occupied by the ice-fields. Their basins are to be reckoned
by the tens of thousands, and their aggregate area is prob-
ably not less than fifteen per cent, of the field in which they
lie. The greater number of them, though probably not half
of the total surface, are to be, in whole or in part, drained
and brought under tillage as soon as population begins to
press upon means of subsistence. The ground thus made
available for tillage is likely in North America to amount
to not less than twenty thousand square miles.

The quality of the soil to be won by the drainage of lakes
will in most instances be excellent. These areas of water,
though in practically all instances of geologically recent
origin, have been long enough in existence to have enriched
their bottoms with deposits of lime phosphate and other ma-
terials favorable to the growth of plants. The soils drained
from these accumulations will be prevailingly clayey and
rather heavy, but very little enduring to tillage and of far
more than average fertility. They may be reckoned on to
afford fields as well suited to agriculture as the heavy land
of Northern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, where much of the
surface took on its character below the former extension of
the neighboring Great Lakes.

Lakes other than glacial. Although the greater number


of drainable lakes and the largest aggregate area of them
lie in the glaciated districts, there are many such in parts
of the world where the ice-sheets have not shaped the sur-
face. Other fresh-water basins are among the results of
mountain-building actions which have lowered considerable
areas, forming such lakes as the Dead Sea of Judea, or the
extensive lakes of the upper Nile. Many of these basins
are so deep, their bottoms often lying below the sea-level, that
complete drainage is impossible in many, if not most in-
stances. However, the conditions often make it possible to
lower the surface of the water to such an extent that large
fields of good land may be won.

As a whole, the lake beds may be reckoned on as likely to
afford, in the ages when the earth is crowded with men, a
resource in the way of tillable lands in area comparable to
that which may be had from the deserts, the morasses, and the
shallow fringes of the sea.


[The President of the United States created June 8, 1908, a Na-
tional Conservation Commission of five members, with Gifi'ord Pinehot
as chairman, to inquire into the condition of the national resources. The
final report of the Commission, made December 7, 1908, was a brief
summary in about fourteen pages of tlie large body of information
collected. The report was submitted to a Joint Conservation Con-
ference meeting in Washington, December 10, 1908, and made up of
governors of States, State Conservation Commissions, and representa-
tives of numerous scientific and civic organizations. The Conference hav-

Online LibraryFrank Albert FetterSource book in economics, selected and ed. for the use of college classes → online text (page 8 of 30)