JF Ptak Science Books Post 1049
The West, the American West, had the foundations for effective an grid delivered by the late 1870's, in the early-middle of what I guess people would consider the high Cowboy days of westward expansion. But the exploration part had been mostly done by this point, as had the expansion bit, the exterior sections of the compartmentalization of the frontier taking place in ever-smaller concentric squares. As I wrote earlier in this blog, it was the introduction of lines that really did the whole Wild West thing in--the introduction of the railroads, of course (followed by the refrigerated railroad car, which did in the great cattle drives and established needed-to-be-peopled rail heads all over the place), telegraph lines, and of course barbed wire. Barbed wire meant barbed wire fences, fences that could be constructed for a small fraction of the cost of wooden fences and which replaced of course no fences at all, dividing the great open plains into more manageable units of owned and regulated land. (Barbed wire fences also needed far less maintenance than wooden fences, which means fewer cowboys riding fences for upkeep and so on.)
By the time the eulogy on the American Frontier was famously delivered by Fred Jackson Taylor in 1893, the fate of the West had already been sealed for perhaps two decades, though the notion of its "closedness" was received with considerable shock. It was time for the truly great equalizer and innovative settler of the West to makes its appearance--boredom.
I think it might be that it was the Boring Frontier that nailed the coffin shut on the Western Frontier. Once all of the lines had been delivered--barbed wire, telegraph, railroads, good maps--the greatest thing left to do was the settling. And nothing quite spells settlement than boredom. Or comparative boredom. Once the essentials of conquest had been delivered in terms of the civilizing lines, it became time to wait for the rest of it, surviving through cold Nebraska winters and hot Panhandle summers, waiting for the rest of America to come and settle. It was the Boredom Frontier that spelled out the intent that the changes brought to that country were there to stay.
And barely three decades after the announcement of the closing of the frontier, automobiles were making their way across the land on new roads., which snaked their way deeper into the last-reached parts of the country. It was very soon after the car and the road that the roadside billboard appeared, and appeared in such great quantity that legislation prohibiting banner display like this was introduced into the legal system during the teens.
Roads provided the last assault on the West, and brought with them their singular colonizing irony of billboards, which prohibited the view of the country through which their roads snaked and pulled. And there's something terribly wrong with that, as witnessed in this 1931 illustration tucked inside this almost-provocatively-named pamphlet, Billboards ad Aesthetic Legislation, New Applications of Police Power (published by the St. Louis Public Library).It is astonishing to think of the vast changes that took place in the remaining American frontier, taking place so quickly--two generations separated the last of the great cattle drives to billboard legislations along auto routes in the western states.
It seems to me that I've seen a similar illustration of the senseless explorer from the 'teens, though I cannot find it now.