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Portage and path dependence

By Hoyt Bleakley and Jeffrey Lin

Abstract

The authors examine portage sites in the U.S. South, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest, including those on the fall line, a geomorphological feature in the southeastern U.S. marking the final rapids on rivers before the ocean. Historically, waterborne transport of goods required portage around the falls at these points, while some falls provided water power during early industrialization. These factors attracted commerce and manufacturing. Although these original advantages have long since been made obsolete, the authors document the continuing importance of these portage sites over time. They interpret these results as path dependence and contrast explanations based on sunk costs interacting with decreasing versus increasing returns to scale.Economic history ; Geography

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