Image Courtesy of American Memory.
In the decades before the Civil War—a period sometimes dubbed the First Industrial Revolution—a significant number of inventions and innovations appeared, transforming American life. A telegraph system allowed information to flow from place to place more quickly than the speed of a horse. A transportation system based largely on steam power allowed goods to be shipped great distances at reduced expense. Also of great consequence was the development of the American System of Manufactures; this system, in which individual workers were responsible for only part of a finished product, helped make store-bought goods more affordable. As a result, people began to buy goods from stores rather than making them--the American consumer was born.
Impressive achievements to be sure, but revolution means dramatic, rapid change. Are the changes that took place in manufacturing and distribution during this period best described as a "revolution" or as steady change over time? What research tools can help students judge the nature of change during the First Industrial Revolution? Can answers be found in census data? This lesson provides students with the opportunity to form, revise, and research questions for an investigation of the First Industrial Revolution, using resources available on EDSITEment-reviewed websites and links.
Note: This lesson may be taught as a stand-alone lesson or in combination with the complementary EDSITEment lesson plan Was There an Industrial Revolution? New Workplace, New Technology, New Consumers.
After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to do the following:
In this activity, students will read "First-hand Accounts from the Industrial Revolution" on pages 1–4 of the PDF (see Preparation for download instructions), which detail experiences of individuals during the period of early industrialization in the U.S. Depending on your class, these passages can be assigned to individuals, pairs, or small groups. After the passages have been carefully read, one student will play the role listed while being interviewed by class members.
For each reading assigned, one student will be interviewed briefly by the class. Answers must come from the article or be reasonable extensions of it. The interview subject can pass on some questions. Interviewees should be introduced according to the role they have been assigned. Questions should focus on that role. As the interviews are conducted, students can fill out the chart "The Lives of Americans During the First Industrial Revolution" on page 5 of the PDF (see Preparing to Teach This Lesson for download instructions).
What conclusions have the students drawn? Based on the interviews and other knowledge of the period students have gained, were working Americans living in a period of dramatic and rapid economic change? Was the First American Industrial Revolution really a revolution? If desired, let any disagreement among students lead to a class debate.
3-4 class periods