Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg


During the early twentieth century American cotton-producing areas rapidly expanded beyond the "Old South" cotton belt, an area extending from Virginia to East Texas. By the 1920s farmers had plowed fields and established new cotton centers in western Oklahoma, the High Plains of Texas, and among the large irrigated farms of California, Arizona, and New Mexico. By the 1940s the dominant areas of American cotton production were California and West Texas.;While historians have examined many aspects of cotton production in the South, the same cannot be said of the western cotton belt. This study profiles the newer cotton farming areas from Central Texas to California and their evolutionary development into the "Cotton West.";Several conditions influenced the establishment and expansion of the Cotton West. Water and irrigation were key ingredients. New settlers in many areas produced relatively little until the federal government built a major irrigation system through the reclamation program; other farmers depended on underground water to sustain their crops.;Central players in the development of the western cotton industry were the researchers and scientists of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and their partners in state land-grant colleges and agricultural experiment stations. The USDA was particularly eager to establish a new cotton industry in the West---one that would supplement instead of duplicate that of the South. Researchers sought and improved varieties of long-staple and Acala cottons, which they bred to suit each region of the Cotton West.;With appropriate varieties of cotton available to farmers, the march toward mechanization became the next important area of study for farmers and researchers alike. Changes in technology and the available labor force were constant challenges for western cotton producers needing seasonal, sometimes migratory, labor at particular times of the year. Federal immigration policy affected which ethnic groups were available. The shift to mechanical harvesting after World War II marked a significant step toward completing mechanization and shifting the labor needs for cotton growing. Once the Cotton West became well established, the contrasts between the West and the South began to disappear.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Cameron Lee Saffell



Proquest ID


OCLC Number




File Format


File Size

192 pages