Industrialization transformed the nation and Texas in particular between 1870 and 1900. Although the industrial boom largely bypassed the South, Texas experienced a surge in railroad building, which encouraged the development of commercial agriculture. Modern transportation facilities linked producers of raw materials to regional, national, and international markets; however, needs expressed by farmers, merchants, bankers, lumbermen, and railroad entrepreneurs differed markedly, so that consensus politics was all but impossible.
The commercialization of agriculture subordinated subsistence farming and enthroned “king cotton.” Agricultural reformers extolled diversification to provide self-sufficiency and political independence, and they championed scientific farming and crop rotation to preserve the family farm. However, technology soon led to overproduction and reduced prices for agricultural products on the world market. Growing cotton—which required less water and crop rotation than many other crops and yielded the highest cash price—simply intensified the rate of tenant farming, bringing prosperity to only a few. Cotton prices fell and the rate of farm tenancy went up. Sharecropping impoverished both blacks and whites.