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Western Expansion: Technology

Western Expansion: Technology

Author: Kimberly Walker

Provide and overview of technological advances during the time of Western Expansion. 

Focus topics will include:

  • Transcontinental Railroad
  • Industrial Revolution
  • Farming Equipment
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Without dramatic advances in technology, Western Expansion would have crawled along at a snail’s pace.  However, that is not how the American spirit worked during the years 1803 – 1920.  We had vast open spaces to explore, land to cultivate and an expanding labor force ready to make it happen. 


Were these leaps and bounds progress?  That is for you to decide. 

Transcontinental Railroad Pre-video Questions

As you watch this video, do not just sit back and relax.  Think about some spin-off topics that interest you.  Here are some questions to help you think about it.

  1. What did the railroad allow Americans to do?
  2. How did the railroad help the West grow?
  3. Why did towns "boom" up on either side or railroad tracks?
  4. What were some of the nationalities of railroad workers?
  5. What were some of the dangers involved in working on the railroad?

Railroad: Post-Viewing Questions

What are some of the advantages to building the Transcontinental Railroad?

What are some of the potential conflicts to arise from building the Transcontinental Railroad? 

Industrial Revolution and the Rise of Factories

"For millions of working Americans, the industrial revolution changed the very nature of their daily work.. Previously, they might have worked for themselves at home, in a small shop, or outdoors, crafting raw materials into products, or growing a crop from seed to table. When they took factory jobs, they were working for a large company. The repetitive work often involved only one small step in the manufacturing process, so the worker did not see or appreciate what was being made; the work was often dangerous and performed in unsanitary conditions. Some women entered the work force, as did many children. Child labor became a major issue."

Source: Teacher’s guide primary source set: The Industrial Revolution in the United States. Library of Congress

Questions for Reading

1. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of living in a city with large factories?

2. As you read through the following report, imagine what it would be like to work under these conditions.  Write or draw your reflection on how this type of work would benefit society and impact you.

Industrial Revolution and Child Labor


Source: Hine, Lewis. “Child Labor in the Canning Industry of Maryland.” 1909. Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division. Found in: National Child Labor Committee Collection.

Early American Photography

"The vast majority of American photographs made before the Civil War era are portraits. Before the late 1850s, city and town views are rare; studies of the landscape exceedingly so. By 1860, however, city views such as those published as stereographs by the E. & H. T. Anthony Company soon fulfilled the population's ravenous desire for nonportrait photographs, including busy urban scenes (1980.1056.3), genre studies, and unusual rural landscapes from Niagara Falls to Yosemite."

Photography Task

Look closely at these photographs. 

1. Write the title for each photograph.

2. What is the most interesting, unusual and/or appealing thing about each of them?

3. Why would Americans during the 1800s desire to see photographs such as these?

Early American Photography