The Homestead Act of 1862 was signed by Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. The act gave applicants up to 160 acres of land. To gain ownership the land had to be improved and you had to live on it for five years. This law made Western migration appealing to settlers. The reason for the government doing this was so that the US would have a bigger agricultural market.
Of the two million claims made under the Homestead Act only 40 percent earned the deed from the government. This was because, since homesteaders weren’t required to have the necessary equipment or know anything about farming, many lacked the tools and knowledge to be productive. Droughts, blizzards, harsh winds and plagues of insects made the production of crops difficult. Settlers also didn’t have the necessary acreage in order to be successful on the dry plains, 160 acres was not sufficient. Those that endured this adversity benefitted from new railroads that provided transportation and made things easier. By 1934, 10% of all U.S. lands were owned by individuals that had been granted homesteads.
Link to document: http://memory.loc.gov/ll/llsl/012/0400/04240392.tif