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.
I recently stumbled across a very cool, in-depth lesson plan looking at the question of whether this time period could be dubbed an industrial revolution or a more gradual change over time. But the part of this lesson that was most interesting to me looked at the changes in agriculture at that time. Here are some great investigations you and your students can explore together as you learn about this important time period in our nation's history:
Working as a group, ask students to indentify both the essential similarities and differences between the technology of the pre-Civil War period and that of the height of the Industrial Age. The groups can summarize their findings on this chart:
Here are some starting points for them to explore:
- Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin
- John Deere Plow
- The plow between 1945 and 1982
- American Westward Migration: The Steel Plow
- McCormick Reaper
This series is inspired by the book The ABC's of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond.