Students examine and compare two railroad poster ads from the 1800s. and then create a poster promoting the benefits of a railroad for Iowans to travel to the Pacific or the Atlantic.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Iowa | Unit 3: Explorers and Settlers." In this unit, students will learn about the various incentives and events that drew European explorers and early settlers to the American West.
H.SS.3.24: Infer the intended audience and purpose of a primary source using textual evidence.
G.SS.4.19: Explain influences on the development and decline of different modes of transportation in US regions.
H.SS.4.22: Infer the purpose of a primary source and from that the intended audience.
An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show images to the class
Class set of Railroads Come to Iowa handout
Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
- Distribute the Railroads Come to Iowa handout to students.
- Project the first image, New Railroad | The Wild West is Tamed to students. Ask students to observe the poster carefully. What do they notice? What images to they see? What words are most prominent? During discussion, point out that this 1867 advertisement shows a speeding Union Pacific train and indicates that the railroad has been extended from Omaha to North Platte. Up until this point, the Union Pacific line ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Iowa and ended in Omaha, Nebraska. Explain that North Platte is west of Omaha and thus closer to states such as Colorado and Utah, making it a better destination than Omaha for travelers going farther west.
- Project the map, USA Map: States, Cities, Flag | Clipart so students can see how Nebraska is west of Iowa. Refer to the map throughout the lesson as needed.
- Project the second image, Rail Road Poster | The Wild West is Tamed to students. Ask students to observe the poster carefully. What do they notice? What images to they see? What words are most prominent? During discussion, point out that this image has an elk representing the Wild West and commemorates the date that the “golden spike” linking the Union Pacific to the Central Pacific railroad, creating the first transcontinental railroad across the United States.
- Discuss with students the similarities and differences between the images. See below for points of comparison.
- These posters were likely to have been displayed at rail stations. Ask students, “Were the posters aimed at the same type of travelers?” [The first poster is more about saving time thus might be aimed at business travelers; the second poster seems to encourage people looking for either an enjoyable trip or for riches.] “What do the posters teach them about how people traveled within the United States before train travel?” [By stagecoach or ship—more time-consuming and potentially more hazardous.]
- To conclude the lesson, have students design their own ad promoting railroads for Iowans on their handouts.
For more information and context on railroads in Iowa, consider having student explore the Iowa Pathways site to view a short video on Iowa railroads in the 1860s, and read more about the development of railroads in Iowa.
Points of Comparison:
- Both emphasize time saved by rail travel.
- Both boast of offering “Pullman’s Palace Sleeping Cars” (luxury rail cars featuring private compartments with beds) and good “eating houses” along the route.
- Both explain how to make connections to other cities.
- Both instruct potential passengers what to ask for when purchasing tickets.
- Central image and symbolism: the speeding train represents the speed of the trip; the elk represents strength and the bounties of the American West.
- Alternative method of transport: first poster indicates that the railroad is faster than stage travel; second poster claims that the railroad is safer than travel by boat.
- Other enticements: the second poster describes the beauty and health benefits of traveling through the Rocky Mountains, and the potential to find valuable minerals in the American West.