5th Grade - Social Studies

LESSON PROBLEM: History: What is the history of rice in the United States?


Rice is one of man's most important foods. It provides nourishment for two-thirds of the world's population. It was introduced in the United States in the late seventeenth century. Today, it is one of America's major agricultural products.

Early European settlers were the first people to grow rice in the United States. In 1685, a ship sailing from Madagascar landed in Charles Towne harbor in South Carolina. It was badly damaged by a storm at sea. The colonists helped to repair the ship. In return, the ship's captain gave a local planter some rice. The rice was called Golden Seede Rice because of its distinctive color. Those seeds were the beginning of rice cultivation in the United States.

Settlers in the Carolinas and Georgia began in earnest to produce rice. They had ideal land conditions. The soil was rich and fertile. The low-lying marsh lands bordered by fresh tidal water rivers made it the perfect place to grow this crop. It had been difficult to grow other crops there because the soil was so soft. Twice a day the tides pushed river waters onto the flood plains making it almost impossible to grow anything there. Needless to say, the colonists were relieved to have a crop that would flourish in these conditions.

The early colonists became major producers and exporters of rice. They shipped 300 tons of rice a year to England and its other colonies. This American rice was called Carolina Golde Rice. By 1700, the colonists were producing so much rice that there weren't enough ships to carry it. It was definitely a major food and cash crop for these early settlers.

Rice farming required many laborers. The soil preparation, planting, harvesting and threshing, all had to be done by hand. This necessity for hand-labor started the plantation era of the Southern States. One rice plantation of a few hundred acres needed 100 to 300 workers.

Carolina Golde rice was an absolute gold mine for the colonists. It would later become a standard for high-quality rice throughout the world. By the time America won its independence in 1776, rice farming was a major agricultural business. Unfortunately, this would not last. The War Between the States started and the plantation era ended. Rice farming was forced to move westward because of the economic losses of the war coupled with the devastation caused by east coast hurricanes. Soldiers returning from the war were given the plantations of the Gulf Coast to farm. This became the new home of rice crops. Unfortunately, the high costs of labor would keep the rice industry from growing. This would only change when mechanized farming methods were introduced.

By the late 1800's, the industrial revolution and the Machine Age was beginning to change the American way of life. In 1884, an Iowa farmer's discovery that the soils of southwestern Louisiana and east Texas could withstand heavy machinery led to renewed rice production projects in the southern states. This prairie land could hold up heavy equipment like the machines that were used in Iowa for wheat farming. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas, all became major rice growing states because of this important discovery. The revolution of mechanization pushed rice farming ahead.

A land boom brought people to Arkansas in the early 1900's. They came to buy cheap land. Farmers soon realized that rice farming was a good way to make a living. Today, this state is the largest rice producing state in the United States.

California is also a rice producing state. In 1884, the Gold Rush brought many people to this state. People from other countries came too. Among them were many Chinese, whose main food was rice. 40,000 Chinese immigrants brought with them the reliance on rice as an everyday food. Rice farming for these new settlers, was a necessity. The soil conditions of the Sacramento Valley made it an ideal place to begin rice production. It was difficult to grow other crops there but the heavy clay soil was perfect for rice growing. California became a major rice-producing state.

Today, American rice production is the most advanced in the world. This industry continues to be very efficient and productive because of technological improvements and the use of new and improved machinery. Rice growing in the United States began a long time ago in South Carolina. Today, it is a major agricultural product. The United States is the most advanced rice producer in the world. And, it is one of the largest rice exporters in the world. From its meager start in the U.S., rice has come a long way.


History of Rice in the U.S. board game

On a large piece of paper or cardboard draw your board game. Draw a path of 50 squares going in a variety of directions or consequences on each square. Leave some squares blank.

Sample game:
Square #1: Ship leaves Madagascar and heads for America.
Square #2: blank
Square #3: Ship caught in storm. Lose 1 turn.
Square #4: blank
Square #5: Captain gives rice to colonists. Move forward 2 squares.
Square #6, Square #7, and Square #8: blank
Square #9: Rice cultivation begins in the United States. Roll again.
Square #10, Square #11: blank
Square #12: Hurricane destroys crops. Return to square 1 and start again.
Square #13, Square #14, Square #15: blank
Square #16: Carolina Gold Rice shipped to England. Move forward 5 spaces.
Square #17: blank
Square #18: The War Between the States starts. Move back 4 spaces..
Square #19, Square #20: blank
Square #21: Soldiers return from war and start rice farming. Move forward 3 spaces.
Square #22, Square #23, Square #24, Square #25: blank
Square #26: High cost of labor keeps rice industry from growing. Roll die and move back that number of spaces.
Square #27, Square #28, Square #29, Square #30, Square #31: blank
Square #32: Iowa farmer discovers soils of southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas can withstand heavy machinery. Move forward 2 spaces.
Square #33, Square #34, Square #35, Square #36, Square #37: blank
Square #38: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas, all become major rice growing states. Move forward 5 spaces.
Square #39: Weather Alert! Move back 2 spaces.
Square #40, Square #41, Square #42, Square #43, Square #44 : blank
Square #45: Gold Rush in California brings 40,000 Chinese immigrants to the state. Rice farming begins. Move forward 3 spaces.
Square #46, Square #47, Square #48, Square # 49: blank
Square #50: American rice production is now the most advanced in the world.

Directions for the game:
Players take turns throwing the die and moving ahead the number of spaces indicated. They must follow the special instructions on the squares. The first player to complete the board wins.
Equipment needed: 1 die, 1 marker for each person
Number of players: 2 to 6


How much of the rice grown by U.S. farmers is consumed by the American people?


Riceland Foods Inc.

UC Cooperative Extension Rice Project

Rice Briefing Room by the USDA

Rice Production in the US

Cypress Gardens Former Rice Plantation

  • colonists
  • cultivate
  • production
  • agricultural
  • consume
  • producers
  • exporter
  • plantation
  • mechanized
  • laborers
  • cash crop

Click here to play Rice Rampage!
Anatomy of Rice:
Rice is a seed of cereal (grass) plant used for food. Click here to learn more about the Anatomy of Rice.
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