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Transportation through U.S. History:  A New Primary Source Set

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This post is by Michael Apfeldorf of the Library of Congress.

Throughout U.S. history, changes in transportation technology have fueled the nation’s growth and shaped how its citizens live and work. A new primary source set from the Library of Congress documents some of the various modes of transportation used, illustrating how they have changed over time and their impact on American life.

Image of children on a schoolbus by Lewis Hine
Greenbank Consolidated School. Loading up the buses for a six-mile haul. Lewis Hine, 1921

The set includes primary sources from more than a century of U.S. history in a variety of formats, including photographs, prints, manuscripts, maps, videos, and newspapers. Highlights include a variety of transportation forms that go over land, in water, or through air: an early electric car that competed with gasoline cars in the early 20th century, a penny-farthing bicycle known for accidents, maps of railroad and trolley routes that illustrate the country’s growth, steamboats propelled by giant paddle wheels, and a balloon that provided reconnaissance for the North in the U.S. Civil War. One early 20th century film shows a busy New York City street when horses, trolleys and pedestrians shared the road; another from the same time period illustrates how trains used to pick up the mail without stopping.

The Transportation primary source set includes historical background information and teaching ideas that support students as they analyze these unique primary sources. It also provides the opportunity for teachers to discuss transportation forms not documented within the set.

We hope that you will find this primary source set a helpful resource to use with your students! Please let us know in the comments if you have any favorite items or ideas for how to use them in your classroom.

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