New frontiers are open

The frontier is open again – part 1

The frontier is a major part of American history. It is a huge factor in our identity in the U.S.

From passing of the Homestead Act in May 1962 in the middle of the American Civil War until around the turn-of-the-century, the frontier was wide open.

What was the appeal?

New opportunities.

You could leave the crowded, rodent infested tenements of the East Coast for lands of unlimited opportunities.

Get in a covered wagon, head across the plains, stake a claim, work the land, and make as good a future for you and your family as you wanted. Farm the land for 5 years and it’s yours.

Price for admission?

Lots of hard work, drive, perseverance, and initiative.

You had to get a covered wagon and outfit it. Travel a long time making sure the horses were fed and watered every day. Make sure you have enough water and food to care for your family. There weren’t any restaurants or grocery stores along the way.

Once you arrived and staked out a claim there’s a tremendous amount of hard work. Digging a hole in the side of the hill. Cutting sod into brick shapes to build a sod house for protection from the elements.

Only then could you break the soil, which means getting rid of all of the wild grass on the surface so you can work in the dirt.

Planting crops, tilling and working them while they grow. Harvesting. Carrying the food to market. Storing food so your family has enough to eat through the winter.

To start with you had to have enough money and food to carry you and your family to the first harvest.

Persevering through adverse weather and crop failures. Coping with loneliness.

The land may have been at no charge but the price of admission was steep. Very steep.

At about the turn-of-the-century, give or take a decade, the frontier was considered closed.

It as been closed for over a century.

The frontier in America is again open.

An ongoing focus of my writing here will examine the bright future that exists in America and around the world. It is so bright we need sunglasses.

I’ve been wanting to start this series for a long time. Seems like every day I see an article or three that show my point.

The direction I plan to go?

  • The frontier experience – so I can compare it to today.     

Then describe the frontiers I see:

  • The oil patch
  • Publishing
  • Education
  • Space exploration

The opportunities are tremendous. The price of admission is still steep. Very steep.

On some frontiers you actually need money. But only in a few. If you don’t have money, there are still exciting frontiers wide open for you to enter.

The price may be low but the cost is high.

Posted 12-29-12


Price of admission to the American frontier was steep – part 2

The Homestead Act, signed into law 150 years ago in May 1862, opened up the American frontier.

This was the deal: Claim 160 acres of land, farm it for five years and then the government gave you title for no charge.

Does that mean it was free land? Not a chance.

The price of admission was extremely steep.

Farming the land was very hard work.

Here is a short version of what’s involved:

You had to get a covered wagon and outfit it. Travel a long time making sure the horses were fed and watered every day.

Dig a hole in the side of the hill. Cut sod into brick shapes to build a sod house for protection from the elements.

Break the soil, which means getting rid of all of the wild grass on the surface so you can work in the rich dirt underneath.

Plant crops. Till and work them while they grow. Harvest. Carry the food to market.

Do all that work with your own back and two horses.

Store food so your family has enough to eat until the next harvest.

Mr. Fergus Bordewich provides rich detail on the frontier life and the Homestead Act in his Wall Street Journal article, How the West Was Really Won.

In all, four million settlers would file homestead claims to 270 million acres in 30 states, 10% of the land mass of the United States. (The size permitted for homesteads was eventually increased to 640 acres as settlers moved into drier regions.) Although the number of claims dropped off during the Great Depression, hundreds continued to be filed annually through the 1960s.

Look at the enthusiasm of the time:

Pioneers themselves could wax euphoric. Uriah Oblinger, a Union veteran who struck out on his own to Nebraska in 1873, wrote enthusiastically to his waiting wife in Indiana, “We have a soil rich as the richest river bottoms in Indiana and no clay hills. All we have to do is plow up some sod, cut it in lengths to suit, and lay up a wall & cover it and you have a house.”

Think about the opportunities available on the frontier but not anywhere else that are implied in this comment:

Among Galusha Grow’s {Speaker of the House in 1862} “soldiers of peace” were single women, who would eventually stake about 10% of all claims. So too those newly liberated from slavery.

The high price resulted in about half of the settlers giving up. I give all of those who didn’t make it tremendous credit for giving it a try.

Look at the really serious challenges:

Meanwhile, the productivity of the best homestead land soared. Although many gave up before the five-year period of “proving up” had elapsed, nearly two million settlers prevailed against loneliness, disease, crop failure and the elements.

The land may have been free, but everyone who got the land paid a very steep price.

The frontier was wide open. The land was free. But the price of admission was very steep. Yet the opportunities were as wonderful and open-ended as you wanted to make them.

I deeply believe that is again the case today. There are open frontiers now.

Check out the full article from Mr. Bordewich. It is great, even if it is too short.

Posted 1-2-13

New frontiers are open – Part 3

The new frontiers:

  • Oil Patch
  • Publishing
  • Education
  • Space Exploration

The American prairies

The opportunities opened up wide as the prairies and the Dakota sky with the signing of the Homestead Act.

A man and his family, or a single woman, or a former slave, could stake out a claim, work as hard as you wanted, and with a little bit of luck and constant hard work, make a go of it. Millions of people did.

The opportunity was there for the taking.

As I mentioned before, the land was free but the admission price to play was steep.

That frontier has long been closed.

Other frontiers have opened up, with the opportunities, also as wide as the prairies. Also with the same high price of admission.

In this post, I’ll talk about the oil patch and publishing. Next post will talk about education and space exploration.

Oil Patch

I’ve been paying attention to the astounding boom in oil production in North Dakota for well over a year. My interest level is sky-high because my son and his new bride are living in the middle of the boom.

The opportunities are astounding. Wal-Mart is advertising $17 an hour for entry-level cashiers. None of the retail stores in town can keep staff.

If you want to work and work hard (everybody is working lots of overtime), there is work to be had.


The price of admission is steep.

It is sort of like the gold rush.

Housing is scarce and expensive.

Lots of employers don’t bother with all the niceties of employment law.

Safety corners get cut.

But on the other hand, guys are going there, working for a few months or a year, pocketing more spare cash in the bank than they could have after working years at home, then going back home. (The newcomers are overwhelmingly men.)

Guys who have run out of opportunities at home are going to Williston and finding jobs very plentiful.

On the other hand…

You may be living out of your car.

You may pay a fortune for a tiny room.

You may be working tons and tons of overtime.

There are long lines to get fast food.

Wal-Mart leaves pallets of stuff on the floor because it sells so fast, it’s not worth the time to stock the shelves.

But there is tremendous opportunity.

The Bakken frontier in North Dakota is wide open. The Eagle Ford frontier in Texas is wide open. Other energy frontiers are starting to open.


The industry is disintegrating and rebuilding in front of our very eyes.

Just about every single rule of the publishing world already has or is about to change.

Anyone who wants to publish a book or music CD or video or any kind of art can do so with incredible ease and astoundingly low costs.


The price of admission is steep.

You have to build an audience on your own.

You have to figure out how to use the amazing technology and make your art look good.

The fierce drive and persistence to make it happen has to be deep in your bones. The fire has to come from you.

But there is tremendous opportunity.

I’ve published 3 print books and converted one of them to an e-book. Plan to print another e-book and convert another print book into electronic format.

Did that by myself. Hired the people I needed for specific tasks, but ran the show by myself.

Anyone can publish. If they are willing to pay the price of admission.

The publishing frontier is open.

Posted 1-25-13


 New frontiers are open – Part 4

The new frontiers:

  • Oil Patch
  • Publishing
  • Education
  • Space Exploration

New frontiers have opened up, with incredible opportunities as wide as the prairies in the northern plains states. They also have the same high price of admission as the old frontier.

In the previous post, I talked about the oil patch and publishing. Now I’ll talk about education and space exploration.


The education world is in a financial bubble. There is a very unsettling shakeup on the near horizon. All levels of education are facing dramatic changes – primary, secondary, college, and graduate.

There are tremendous opportunities to develop new educational models and new educational revenue streams.


The price of admission is steep.

The technology is rapidly developing. Some big questions remain, like how to deal with cheating. But the basic tech is falling into place.

You have to figure out how to make the tech work.

Many players are already offering free on-line education.

The revenue model is still fuzzy, but some vague outline is starting to develop.

Not a lot of money is needed. Will probably help if you have some serious money at the table.

Lots of subject matter knowledge is necessary.

You have to build a following.

On the other hand, a lot of people have already set up a college or other on-line education or other new models.  The opportunity is there at all levels of education.

The education frontier is open.

Space Exploration

The age of private space flight on privately designed spaceships that are privately built and privately funded has dawned.

The technology and capabilities are there.

The possibility of huge economic reward is there.


The price of admission is steep.

The technology hasn’t all been worked out.

The details on how to make it pay off are a bit fuzzy. The opportunities are there but fuzzy.

You gotta’ have some serious money to play in this league.

On the other hand, there are quite a few people who pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars, or sometimes billions, from selling their whiz-bang neato tech outfit. Not many, but they are around.  There are people who have plopped down half a billion or a billion on their own space startup.

(If taking a run at starting my very own space exploration outfit cost as much in relation to my total wealth as if I were to buy a nice, brand new car, I’d be in the game tomorrow.)

You have to assemble a team and work out a lot of technical issues.

On the other hand, there are today, right now, multiple companies that are working to develop privately run, manned, resupply flights to the international space station.

There are multiple companies figuring out how to mine asteroids.

The space exploration frontier is open.


Oh yeah, the frontiers open now are just as exciting as the American frontier 150 years ago.

Way cool.

posted 1-28-13


In case it isn’t obvious – Copyright © 2012, 2013. James L. Ulvog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *