Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Technology in the Early 1800s

Francis Sicius
Colleges and Universities - Florida


Students view and analyze photos that depict early nineteenth century work technology from the on-line Smithsonian photo collection.


The student understands selected technological developments and their effects that occurred in America from 1801 to 1861 (for example, the cotton gin increasing the need for large numbers of slaves to pick cotton).


-Computer with large screen and Internet access
-Computer with Internet access and screen for each group of five students
-Pen or pencil


1. Preview Smithsonian Website (
2. Have Website online when students begin class.
3. Prepare list of questions for discussion:
Questions should include the following: How are the workers dressed? Are they rich looking or poor? Are just men doing the job? Are workers all of one race? Is this technology still used today? What has replaced it?


1. Divide students into groups of five. Each group should have their own computer.

2. Direct students to the Smithsonian Internet site.

3. Direct them to the browse page of the Smithsonian Internet site. (See WebLink).

4. Have students look for titles of photos that include work and technology.

5. Tell them to choose ten photos at which to look.

6. Tell them to number the photos and take notes on each one.

7. Give them a list of discussion questions.

8. After the discussion, have each one write a short description of a day in the life of one of the workers viewed.


Assesment should be based on written work submitted by students.
1. Do they understand how technology differs over the ages?
2. Can they see the advantages or disadvantages of 19th century technology?
3. Have they effectively synthesized their own ideas with the facts presented in the photographs?


This plan could be extended to specific developments, such as history of the locomotive or history of clothing or housing.

Web Links

Web supplement for Technology in the Early 1800s
America's First Look at the Camera

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