Abstract

Historians have noted the importance of chattel-mortgage financing in nineteenth-century Midwestern agriculture, including its contribution to farmer distress but have not examined its incidence, purposes, or practices in detail. Here the authors describe chattel mortgaging in the town of Springdale, Dane County, Wisconsin between 1848 and 1900, focusing on the borrowing and lending practices of the farmer householders listed in the population and agricultural federal census schedules of 1860 and 1880 and relating them to economic development, production patterns, and the ethnocultural backgrounds, tenure, and gender of the farm operators. They provide comparative data on the extent to which the farmers also borrowed on landed security. They include two detailed case histories of unsuccessful chattel borrowers but also show the importance of chattel credit in the agricultural mechanization that occurred during these years. This type of credit involved smaller principal sums than land credit but was a significant element in the business and commercial processes of the town and although more costly than land credit the difference was apparently less than has been suggested on the basis of experience elsewhere in this era. Farmer distress as reflected in foreclosures was greatest here at earlier dates than those of the Populist Era.

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[Footnotes]

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