The History of Grants: A Multi-Series - Part I - The Money That Built America

Jun 3, 2024 1:28:21 PM / by Cameron Blevins

The History of Grants- A Multi-Series - Part I - The Money That Built America

Since formation, the United States has utilized grants to distribute resources amongst its various states and peoples. From farmers to industrialists, the federal government has pursued a policy of no-strings-attached funding for a variety of projects that serve the national interest. Because of this, grants have taken and will continue to take, many different and unique forms over the years to effectively influence the progression of national goals through for-profit and nonprofit entities. Follow along in this multi-part series, The History of Grants, as we explore some of the most effective and impactful programs that have helped build America, as well as contemporary examples of what we’re doing today to make change happen.

Post achieving independence, the priorities of the early United States were oriented toward strengthening agriculture in the South and West. The federal government granted hundreds of thousands of acres to individuals for the purpose of establishing farms across rural parts of the country to help grow the domestic economy.1 Over the years, Washington came to use tax revenues to support the growth of new railroad and manufacturing industries, as well as establish strong educational institutions through the “Land Grant” program that allowed states to grant lands to start public universities across the country. Many of the universities we know today as elite institutions of higher learning were started through the “Land Grant” program.2 Taken together, it is clear that much of American growth in the 19th and early 20th centuries can be attributed to the collaboration of state and private industries that enabled incredible progress in areas vital to a young nation. Later in the 1860s, 1890s, and 1990s, land grant mechanisms were used to create numerous Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Universities, bringing education to a number of underserved communities.3

From there, prompted by the grave economic conditions in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression, the New Deal introduced an expanded social safety net in addition to programs designed to stimulate economic growth and activity. The Tennessee Valley Authority is one successful example of this program. Created to foster growth in the rural region of the Tennessee Valley, this organization has grown into a major utility provider in the area. Programs like these defined the Public-Private Partnership of the New Deal era.4

Today, we are seeing grants used as an instrument of funding more than ever before. From microchip manufacturing to energy-efficient tractors, the federal government has allotted a decent portion of the annual budget to invest in critical areas of the nation’s workforce and economy. Americans are seeing massive amounts of funds being distributed to organizations and businesses across the country, serving as part of the foundation for a new economy focused on greener energy practices, renewed manufacturing capabilities, and the meeting of critical social needs such as healthcare and education. For rural Americans, the US Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development has provided billions of dollars in funding to agricultural producers, rural small businesses, and other key cogs of the supply chain to improve energy efficiency, provide guaranteed loans for capital, and upgrade high-cost equipment to increase productivity. 5

For others, institutions like the National Science Foundation and the Department of Health and Human Services have each disbursed billions in federal funding to services and initiatives targeting the opioid epidemic These efforts are rooted in a long history of funding health research and development and are designed to funnel support to those public or private entities that further national public health agendas.6 Over the last year, the HHS has given out over 143,000 awards in 2023 for a total funding of $1.78 trillion to researchers, practitioners, and healthcare institutions.7

Through this multi-series, The History Of Grants, we are going to highlight the myriad of different funding opportunities, programs, and the history behind them to help reach those of you just entering into this process. Seeking funding can be a long road and one that we understand to be difficult for people to navigate on their own. This series will not only inform and spread awareness about possibilities available for your organization, but also educate you on the connection between grant funding and various industries. Keep an eye out for Part II: The Pursuit of Public Education in the coming weeks.

To learn more, feel free to contact us at  (866) 216-5343 or

If you are ready to go after grants, but need assistance in the process, USFCR’s Grant Writing Team can assist your organization’s unique program needs. 

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1.  Maxwell, J. A. (1952). Brief History of Grants. NBER Chapters, in: Federal Grants and the Business Cycle. pp. 1-2.
2. Maxwell, J. A. (1952). Brief History of Grants. NBER Chapters, in: Federal Grants and the Business Cycle. p. 1. 
3.  McClay, B. C. (2019, February 15). The story of historically black colleges in the US. BBC.
4. McDonald, M. J., & Muldowny, J. (2002). TVA and the Dispossessed. Univ. of Tennessee Press.
5. Rural Development. (2022). Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Programs. U.S. Department of Agriculture.
6. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (n.d.). Survey of Federal Funds for Research & Development, FY 2020. National Science Foundation.
7.    HHS TAGGS. (n.d.). Government Grants - Federal Funds Awarded: Did You Know?


Tags: News, Hot Grants, Grants

Cameron Blevins

Written by Cameron Blevins