Category Archives: U.S. History

Valentine's Day Recipe

Valentines day

For more information on the above ads visit the following links:

(starting from top left)

1. Ad: Middishade Blue Suit, ‘Correct at every tick of the clock’ 1928

2. Ad: L’ECHO of Paris, ‘New Dance Frocks’ 1928

3. Ad: Holeproof Hosiery Co., 1924

4. Ad: Spur Ties, ‘All tied for you. Husband, friend, or brother’ 1929

5. Ad: Jewelers’ Association, ‘Love Token for the Ages’ 1927

6. Ad: Packard, ‘Packard was born into the world of taste and refinement’ 1928

7. Ad: Johnston’s Chocolates, ‘Rudy Vallee autographs his photograph for the sweethearts of America’ 1931

Connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific by rail: "un fait accompli"

This summer, with the help of the National Endowment for the Humanities, we will be looking into just what a big deal the first transcontinental railroad was. And we invite you to join us. Read on.


On the morning of May 10, 1869, railroad workers laid two rails opposite one another: one for the Union Pacific Railroad and one for the Central Pacific Railroad. When the hammer struck the final spike to hold the rails in place, a single route connected the East Coast with the West Coast by rail. Telegraph wires attached to the spike informed both coasts that the crowd gathered in Promontory, Utah witnessed the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.

As he commemorated the moment in poetry, Bret Harte wondered:

What was it the Engines said,
Pilots touching,–head to head,
Facing on the single track,
Half a world behind each back?

In that morning’s New York Times, the Wells Fargo company had already issued an advertisement for tickets or cargo on the railroad, boasting faster travel times than anyone had ever heard of, “Overland to California. Seven Days from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.”


Indeed, completion of the railroad reduced transcontinental travel time for the average person from three to six months down to one week. It was a world-changing innovation. According to William Deverell,

the invention also brought about profound changes in the understanding of time and the relationship between time and space. To nineteenth-century observers, at first unable to adjust to the changes wrought by the machine, the railroad simply “annihilated time and space.”


Quaker Oats railroad cars crossing the Rockies, from ad booklet distributed at the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL, 1893

If you are a teacher and you would like to join us this summer as we learn more about the Transcontinental Railroad, consider applying for a seat on The Transcontinental Railroad: Transforming California and the Nation, an NEH funded Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop.

Other railroad images in The Marchand Archive

More about this NEH Landmark Workshop

Are you ready for some football?

Super Bowl Sunday is here! The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will face off on February 3rd for the championship. Take this opportunity to get your students engaged with primary sources.  The Marchand Collection is home to some great nineteenth century images of American football that will get students excited about spotting the differences between then and now.

This 1900 photograph of a coal yard pick-up game would not be that far off from one of kids playing today. Except, of course, for the location. Why would children be playing football in a coal yard?

Working class boys in a coalyard football game, PA, (1900)

College football, New Haven, CT (1900).

Another way to use these football primary source with your students is to discuss changes to the sport itself.  Take for example, this 1900 photograph of a New Haven, CT college football game.  Ask students to identify how the uniforms differ from today. Then ask them to use what they know of Progressive Era changes at the turn of the century to speculate on why the sport started to change their equipment.

Finally, how might this 1897 cartoon help students interpret the shift?

Death as “the twelfth player in every football game,” drawing (1897)

Let's Go Shopping…19th Century Style!

As the holiday season gets into full swing, engage student’s shopping preoccupation with nineteenth century department store ads and photographs.  The Marchand Archive holds dozens of intriguing posters that will get students thinking about the differences between department stores then and now.

Take for example this 1885 ad for Hill Brothers Millinery Goods storeroom.  Perhaps students notice how well dress the shoppers are.  Maybe they recognize that all the sales associates are men.  Or even, notice the differences and similarities with today’s stores layout of goods.  No matter what draws them in, they will soon forget they are engaging in a historical conversation!

Ad poster for Hill Brothers Millinery Goods salesroom interior, New York City, 1885

Search here for more examples!


Lincoln: The Man and the Movie

Abraham Lincoln, 1860.

The eternal teacher question: How do we get students interested in history?  Engaging with students in diverse and creative ways is something teachers work to do on a daily basis.  Taking the (let’s face it) sometimes dry facts of our textbooks and turning them into interesting and witty lessons that will inspire students, can be tiring, challenging, and downright frustrating.  Why not take advantage of popular culture moments!

From the Official “Lincoln” Website



For example, today the Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln” appears in theaters and offers a great opportunity to take a closer look at the Civil War.  Connecting history with popular culture is an opportunity to open student’s eyes to the broader impact of historical events.  What better way than a new movie to get students thinking of history as exciting and relevant rather than boring and outdated.

Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the iconic role that depicts the last few months of Lincoln’s life, the decisions he made in regards to the South, and the difficulty of those decisions.  But, will our students appreciate what led to these important moments?  Will they understand the roots of the War before heading to the movie?  To help them get more out of their cinematic experience, turn to the late Roland Marchand for inspiration!  Over the years, Marchand created a variety of lessons based on primary documents for his university classes. Particularly useful to pair with “Lincoln” is Marchand’s lesson “Lincoln and the Outbreak of War, 1861.” In it, students analyze the events in the first weeks of Lincoln’s presidency to determine his role in the conflict.  The high school version provides a “Cast of Characters” and their voices to help students write a history of the Civil War.  For middle school, students examine a collection of documents designed to help them understand Lincoln’s role.

Union recruitment poster, April 1861.

Teachers can supplement this trove of written sources with images from the Marchand Archives.  Notices announcing the Union’s dissolution, recruitment posters, and paintings of important battles provide fodder for discussion.  For what reasons did individuals go to war and continue to fight? How did politicians express these ideas expressed to the nation?  What impact did battles have on local communities?  On the nation?

Together, the document based lessons and the images, provide students with a solid background to help them better understand the movie.  But more than that, analyzing historical sources helps students develop and hone the skills needed to become critical examiners of how history is interpreted through popular culture.

Thinking Through Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving holiday is fast approaching and now is an ideal time to investigate how we think about the original event.  A versatile image available in our collection is the 1914 postcard by Jennie Brownscombe, “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth.”  This beautifully crafted and intricate image can serve either as an opener or final assessment.

Jennie Brownscombe, “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth,” 1914.

As an opener for a lesson related to the Pilgrims, establishment of Plymouth, and interactions with local Native Americans have students engage in analysis using a strategy such as “Toolbox” described on page 3 of this Colonial Diversity lesson. After examining additional sources, such as this set at the Library of Congress, students can return to the Brownscombe image to discuss “Is this a realistic interpretation of the first Thanksgiving? Why or why not?” Requiring students to provide evidence for their choice provides an opportunity to strengthen the skills described in Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects related to reading a variety of sources on a topic (Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6–12 RH1 & 9, pg. 60) and writing arguments supported by evidence (Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6–12 WHST1, pg. 64.)

What primary sources do you like to use around Thanksgiving?

Historic Campaign Posters & the Common Core

The 2012 Presidential Election day is finally here, one day to go.  But don’t fret, there is still time to get your students interested in the election!  One of the important themes in any election is that of perspective and point of view.  Developing the ability to recognize an author’s point of view helps students develop a critical eye in reading texts both historical and contemporary.  A good example of a primary source from the Marchand Archive is this poster, “The Whole Story in a Nutshell!” from the 1888 election.  It depicts both the Republican platform championed by Benjamin Harrison and the Democratic platform headed by Grover Cleveland.

Take a moment to digest each candidate’s platform as presented by this image.  Can you discern which party produced this image?  What was their motive for producing this campaign ad?  How do you know?  Asking students these and other questions related to point of view and purpose (detailed in the Common Core Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies RI6) will help them better analyze primary sources and engage with the political process today.

A Republican campaign poster contrasting Harrison’s ideas with Cleveland’s, 1888.

Election Countdown!

A McKinley campaign poster, 1896, depicting the lighter side of our weighty political campaigns.

With the 2012 Presidential election only a week away, our voice-mails, in-boxes, and mailboxes overflow with campaign promises.  While today candidates can communicate their message over television, the tube was not always an option.  What language did politicians in the past use, and does it differ from today?  How did politicians across the centuries attempt to sway voters?  What imagery did they use to appeal to individuals?  What were the issues at stake in a particular election?  The Marchand Archives provides a wealth of resources to help answer these important questions.

One of my favorite ways to engage with elections of the past is through campaign posters.  They provide an excellent opportunity to discuss the political process.  Helping students analyze campaign posters from past elections will allow them make sense of the political process they see on television today.  To me, campaign posters from the past are similar to TV commercial spots of today.  They communicate the message of the candidate in an at-a-glance visual manner.

Take for example this 1896 campaign poster for the Republican ticket.  Colorful and packed with images, this poster depicts the stance of McKinley and his running mate.  While this image also includes a significant amount of text, it is not necessary to read it all.  Choice words focus the reader on the candidate’s main slogan: “Our Home Defenders.”  What stands out to you from this image?  What makes you want to know more about the views of the Republican platform?

How does it compare to the Democratic poster of William Jennings Brian from 1900?

Commentary from Katharine Kipp, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis

Let's talk about baseball…and history

“The American National Game of Baseball.” The 1862 World Series

The World Series is right around the corner and may provide an avenue to tap into students’ interest in sports to engage in a conversation about history. If you want to connect to the Civil War, currently in it’s sesquicentennial, you might have students look closely at this Currier and Ives depiction of the 1862 World Series and see if they notice anything different (i.e., the pitcher is pitching underhanded). To go deeper into the Civil War consider making use of resources in the primary source set, Baseball Across a Divided Society created by the Library of Congress.

New York boys playing baseball in an alley, 1910. Beginning in the 1890s there was increasing agitation for small parks and playgrounds to get the city’s children off the streets.

For industrialization in the early 20th century have students consider this Lewis Hines photo of children playing baseball in a new York City alley and how it contrasts with this one from around the same time of children playing baseball in Central Park. What do these two images tell us about society during this time?

What are some ways you tap into your students’ interests like sports, music, etc. to get them engaged about history? Tell us about it here.

Health, Youth and Beauty–Oh My!

Hinds skin cream ad

Ad: Hinds Honey and Almond Cream, ‘Don’t stare at me like that’ 1929

Today we have new commentary on advertisements from Katharine Kipp, graduate student in the History department at U.C. Davis

In searching through images to write a new blog, I wandered aimlessly through the thousands of ads that Roland Marchand expertly collected.  I amassed a list of at least twenty that were entertaining, astonishing, and thought-provoking or sometimes all three at once.  Ads for face creams, corsets, laundry services, laxatives, and cleaning products filled the pages but I remained stumped.  Which to write about and what to say?

Taking the advice of the expert History Project teachers I have watched over the years discuss strategies for engaging students with primary documents, I stood back and looked at the list as a whole.  I was struck by the obsession with health, youth, and beauty.  Unable to put my finger on exactly how to define this phenomenon, I turned to textbooks and articles to help answer my questions.  But they just did not get at the heart of what was happening in the 1920s.  Finally, I turned to my fellow History Project bloggers for help and it was Patricia Cohen’s post, From advertising to middle age that was ultimately the key.  She writes, “zeroing in on the physical body, the market whips up insecurities, creating a sense of inferiority, then sells the tools that promise to allay those fears.”  And this explains precisely the ads celebrating health, youth, and beauty in the carefree and liberating days of the interwar period.

For example, this 1929 ad for Hinds Honey and Almond Cream “Don’t stare at me like that…” features a husband and wife whose leisurely day at the beach.  Their outing is marred by the husband’s realization, “What’s the matter with your face?…Looks rough. Your face and neck used to be as smooth and young as your shoulders.”  The ad narrates the horrified response of his wife as she realizes “If he had noticed, what about the critical world? Was that why other men seemed less interested—why other women were no longer envious?”  Having established the problem, skin damage over time from exposure to the elements, the ad proceeds to provide the answer, in the form of Hinds Honey and Almond Cream that helps refresh skin exposed to the sun too long and even prevent sunburn.

His Empty Shoes

‘His Empty Shoes’, Lysol Disinfectant 1927

Advertisers of health products utilized the strategy of identifying a new insecurity their merchandise could solve.  For instance, Lysol Disinfectant’s 1927 ad “His empty shoes” is a startling and fear-producing ad. It advises mothers, “be sure—whatever may happen—that you have really done your best to protect your family against germ life.” Interestingly, this ad allows the reader to determine its meaning. For some, the empty shoes simply mean that at night, while children sleep, is the ideal time to ready their precious shoes for the next day of playing, doing one’s best to maintain healthy environments for children to grow and learn. For others, the empty shoes with laces untied, forlorn and forgotten, symbolizes the tragedy of losing a child.  The ad cautions mothers that this tragedy is avoidable if they use Lysol as part of their daily cleaning routine. Regardless of how the reader interprets the ad the end message remains the same: “have you done your best?”

Look here for more 1920s ads.