|How do new technologies change people’s lives?|
By the midpoint of the 19th century, the nation’s land area stretched from coast to coast, as a result of the Gold Rush, the growing number of immigrants, and the belief in manifest destiny. As the size of the United States grew, so too did its reliance on new technologies. To the joy of some people and consternation of others, Americans were constantly developing new methods of producing, manufacturing, and transporting goods. Some of these new inventions also increased our nation’s growth, because they made it possible for Americans to move and communicate more easily throughout the country.
What Primary Sources Can Tell Us about the Expanding Nation
The Industrial Revolution enabled machine-produced goods to be turned out in large numbers. These technologies also left many mementos from this era that can be viewed today.
An 1848 issue of Scientific American
Thomas Edison seated with a phonograph in 1878
What is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States? It may come as a surprise to students that it is Scientific American! The publication got its start in 1845—a time in which new technologies of the Industrial Revolution were quickly changing the nation. Scientific American’s history is a testament to many of those changes. In 1850, for example, the publication provided technical help and legal advice to inventors when the first branch of the U.S. Patent Agency was founded. By 1900 more than 100,000 inventions had been patented, with significant contributions from Scientific American. For example, Thomas Alva Edison presented his prototype for the phonograph to the journal’s editors. Samuel Morse, who is associated with inventing the electric telegraph, and Elias Howe, creator of the first sewing machine, often visited the publication’s New York offices.
Panning for gold
To this day, the magazine lives up to the description Rufus Porter placed on its masthead more than 150 years ago: “The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and Other Improvements.” The edition of Scientific American shown here came out the same week that James Marshall was helping to build a saw mill for John Sutter. Marshall noticed a few gold nuggets on the shallow bottom of the American River. This, as you know, led to the California Gold Rush.
Gold Rushing: Innovations in Gold Mining
As in other industries, gold mining methods improved during the mid-1800s. At first, when gold was found loose in California river beds, most miners relied on shallow metal pans in which they mixed soil with water. Lowering the pan into the river, the miners would swirl the pan, allowing the muddy water and sand to float out, leaving the heavier gold pieces behind. Later someone had the idea of a rocker and cradle. These simple machines served a similar purpose, but were more effective. The device was set on a slope. When water was run through the mud and sand, any gold in the mixture would be left behind. With the rocker and cradle, miners could work a riverbed or land surface much more quickly.
Once gold seekers began mining under the earth’s surface, they turned to more complex machinery that allowed them to tunnel deeper into the ground. Soon miners employed dredges, hydraulic drills, and hydraulic monitors. These devices led to many environmental problems, however, destroying habitats and flooding the land of farmers living downstream.
Industrial Revolution Technology: Creating a Class Edition of Scientific American
1. Distribute to each student a copy of the engraving of Chinese workers in California’s gold fields (1860) (A copy of this image can also be found on page 26 of your Primary Sources Handbook.) Ask students what they know about the tools the Chinese workers are using in the engraving. Use the background information above to help you fill in any gaps in their knowledge. You may wish to have students complete the worksheet on page 27 of their Primary Sources Handbook on their own.
2. Remind students that, as the California Gold Rush was taking place in the West, the United States was in the middle of an Industrial Revolution in the East. Share with students a copy of the 1848 issue of Scientific American. Point out that this copy of the publication was released the same week that gold was first discovered at Sutter’s Mill. As a group, discuss some of the inventions and technological advances highlighted on the front page. Then tell students that, as a class, they are going to create their own Industrial Revolution edition of Scientific American.
3. On a chalkboard, post these names: Levi Strauss, Phillip Armour, John Studebaker, Henry Wells, and William Fargo. Tell students that all of these people got their start in business during the California Gold Rush. Then, referring to their textbook and other sources, invite students to name other scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs of that time period. (Names might include Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, Samuel Slater, Sequoyah, George Pullman, Isaac Singer, Charles Goodyear, Samuel Morse, and Cyrus McCormick.) Ask students why they think there may not be any women on this list.
4. Assign each student to a different inventor. You might also wish to assign some students to other changes taking place in the nation during the time period covered by the unit. For example, one or more students might write about the tools being used by miners panning for gold. Others might research the changes occurring in the shipping or whaling industries. Still other students might write editorials and/or Letters to the Editor about the pros and cons of these new inventions.
5. Once students are assigned their topics, remind them that the pieces they write are to appear in a Scientific American-type publication. Decide as a class on rules of consistency that the publication should have. For example, should each article begin with a dateline, such as is used in this unit’s Our Expanding Nation News? Will the reporters be given bylines, and if so, should these appear at the start or the end of the article they’ve written?
6. When students have had enough time to prepare their news articles, have the class help decide which pieces are the most newsworthy and should go on the front page. Then, using a simple desktop publishing program such as Microsoft Publisher, Appleworks/Clarisworks, or Microsoft Word, help students combine their efforts into a unique publication that everyone will be proud of!
Additional Primary Sources
Chapter 15: New Ideas Bring Change
Chapter 16: Settling the West
Image credits: a. Library of Congress; b. PhotoLink/Getty Images