A land grant is a gift of real estate - land or its use privileges - made by a government or other authority as an incentive, means of enabling works, or as a reward for services to an individual, especially in return for military service. Grants of land are also awarded to individuals and companies as incentives to develop unused land in relatively unpopulated countries; the process of awarding land grants are not limited to the countries named below. The United States historically gave out numerous land grants as Homesteads to individuals desiring to prove a farm. The American Industrial Revolution was guided by many supportive acts of legislatures (for example, the Main Line of Public Works legislation of 1826) promoting commerce or transportation infrastructure development by private companies, such as the Cumberland Road turnpike, the Lehigh Canal, the Schuylkill Canal, and the many railroads that tied the young United States together.
Roman soldiers were given pensions (praemia) at the end of their service including cash or land. Augustus fixed the amount in AD 5 at 3,000 denarii and by the time of Caracalla it had risen to 5,000 denarii. One denarius was roughly equivalent to a day's wages for an unskilled laborer.
Australia was first settled by the British in 1788 to form the colony of New South Wales, with them claiming all land as crown land. Over time, it granted land to released convicts. Males were allowed 30 acres (12 ha), plus 20 acres (8.1 ha) if they were married, and 10 acres (4.0 ha) additional per child. Instructions were issued on 20 August 1789 that non-commissioned Marine Officers were to be entitled to 100 acres (40 ha) additional and privates to 50 acres (20 ha) additional.
Land grants started to be phased out when private tendering was introduced, and stricter limits were placed on grants without purchase. The instructions to Governor Brisbane were issued on 17 July 1825. From 9 January 1831, all land was to be sold at public auction.
The Hudson's Bay Company was incorporated in 1670 with the grant of Rupert's Land by King Charles II of England; this vast territory was greater than one third the area of Canada today. Following the Rupert's Land Act in the British Parliament, Rupert's Land was sold in 1869 to the newly formed Canadian Government for the nominal sum of £300,000.
Land grants were an incentive for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The Plantations of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries involved the confiscation of some or all the land of Irish lords and its grant to settlers ("planters") from England or Scotland. The English Parliament's Adventurers Act 1642 and Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 specifically entitled "Adventurers" who funded the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland to lands seized from the leaders of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the ensuing Confederacy.
In New Zealand two private railway companies were offered land grants to build a railway, though both were eventually taken over by the government and incorporated into the government-owned New Zealand Railways Department.
In America, starting in the 16th century, land grants were given for the purpose of establishing settlements, missions, and farms. Countries granting land included Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Britain.
Under colonial law, a patentee had to improve the land. Under this doctrine of planting and seeding, the patentee was required to cultivate 1-acre (4,000 m2) of land and build a small house on the property, otherwise the patent would revert to the government.
Between 1783 and 1821, Spain offered land grants to anyone who settled in their colony of Florida. When that colony was transferred to the United States, the resulting treaty agreed to honor all valid land grants. As a result, years of litigation ensued over the validity of many of the Spanish Land Grants.
At the same time, Spain and Mexico were offering land grants along the Rio Grande River near the Texas/Mexico border. These grants were given to help colonization of the area by Mexican and Spanish nationals, and strengthen frontier towns along the Texas border.
During the Mexican period of California (and other portions of Mexican territories inherited from New Spain), hundreds of ranchos and large tracts of land were granted to individuals by the Mexican government. The ranchos established land-use patterns that are recognizable in the California of today.
During the 19th century, extensive land grants were made to railroads, since their development was seen as a new form of transportation internal improvements. The Land Grant Act of 1850 provided for 3.75 million acres of land to the states to support railroad projects; by 1857 21 million acres of public lands were used for railroads in the Mississippi River valley, and the stage was set for more substantial Congressional subsidies to future railroads. Four out of the five transcontinental railroads in the United States were built using land grant incentives.
Bounty-land warrants were issued to military veterans in the United States from 1775 to 1855. The land grants were used extensively for the settlement of Ohio Territory and the Northwest Territory as well as the Platte Purchase in Missouri.
Initially the warrants which were grants for land of often 160 acres were aimed in particular at veterans of the American Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War as well as various Indian wars. Eligibility for the warrants expanded over the years through new Congressional acts of 1842, 1850, 1852, and 1855 to the point where they could be sold or could be handed out to descendants. The warrant program was discontinued prior to the American Civil War.