The Homestead Acts

The Homestead Acts—a series of federal laws passed between 1862 and 1916—granted 160-acre sections of public land, called homesteads, to Americans at very little cost. These acts were designed to provide incentives for Americans to move west. Citizens from all backgrounds, including immigrants, farmers without their own land, women, and former slaves, could apply. Successful applicants received the deed to land in exchange for spending five years farming and improving it. Approximately 270 million acres were claimed and farmed under the Homestead Act. The following documents, maps, and photos offer various perspectives on the experiences of American homesteaders during the late 1800s.