The exact number of homestead patents issued is not yet known. The General Land Office issued the patents from the 1860s to 1946. From 1946 to 1988, the Bureau of Land Management issued them. Recent estimates are that no fewer than 2 million people received homestead patents.
The total amount of land conveyed to homesteaders is around 270 million acres. This is roughly equal to the size of Texas and California added together. The 270 million areas are spread out in 30 different states, from Florida, to Michigan, to California, to Alaska, and in between.
A major reason that we don’t know the precise number of homesteads is that we have not yet tabulated all the homestead patents. The most comprehensive database is on the General Land Office Records website. http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/
But as of early 2012, it still lacked complete homestead patent records for certain states, including Nebraska and Kansas, two states where homesteading started early.
We also do not have a precise number for all the homestead applications. This number would include the applications for the approximately 2 million-plus people who received patents to their homesteads. It would also include the applications of all homesteads where a patent was not issued. The best estimate is that perhaps only 40% of all homestead applications filed resulted in the land being patented. If that percentage is correct, then the total number of homestead applications is well over 4 million.
Work is underway to review and automate all homestead application records for such “unsuccessful” homesteads, but it may take many years before it is done and the results known.