Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
A More Perfect Union

Parallel Inventions

Objective: Students develop parallel timelines that show inventions and technological developments that accelerated growth in several fields during the late nineteenth century.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
2-3 class periods

Building Background:
The years that followed the American Civil War were rich with new inventions. Inventors such as Thomas A. Edison and Alexander Graham Bell led the United States to world leadership in technology. The companies and laboratories that developed around these inventors often grew into major industries with world-wide markets. Remind students that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. Between 1876 and 1882, Thomas Alva Edison, one of the country's most prolific inventors, invented the phonograph, electric light, and many other inventions in his Menlo Park laboratory. Discuss with students how these inventions changed home life and work life. Tell students that they will study nineteenth century inventors and their inventions and create a timeline tracing technological developments.

What To Do:

1. Distribute the Invention Timeline worksheet worksheet. Have each student choose one of the following areas to research for their timelines.


2. Have students use the library or the Internet to find information on nineteenth-century inventors and inventions in the field they chose. Encourage students to focus their research on American inventors or inventors who lived and worked in the United States. If you have Internet access in your classroom, students can search these sites for information:

Inventure Place: National Inventors Hall of Fame

Learn about hundreds of inventors and inventions through the brief descriptions at this searchable site.

The History of Inventions

This site has an interactive timeline highlighting great inventions throughout history.

American Inventors and Inventions

This Smithsonian site provides images and background information on invention models submitted with patent applications before 1880.

4000 Years of Woman in Science

This site contains biographies, photographs, crossword puzzles, quizzes, and background information on women scientists and inventors.

Forgotten Inventors

This site from PBS provides descriptions of inventors whose names are often overlooked but whose inventions we still use today.

Alexander Graham Bell Notebooks Project

Learn about Bell's inventions by examining his notebook entries and sketches, available online from the University of Virginia.

The Telephone

This site, part of the American Experience series, details the invention of the telephone and its effects.

3. Have students use their notes to put entries on their timelines. Encourage students to name the invention, the inventor, and the date. Challenge students to include a minimum of five entries on their timelines.

4. When students have completed their timelines, post their work on a bulletin board or wall so that the dates on each timeline correspond to one another. Encourage students to decorate the display with drawings of different inventions or inventors. Have students compare the timelines to see which inventions, if any, were of significance to more than one field. Have students also point out the impact of each invention listed in their timelines.

5. Students should also write a brief report about one invention or inventor they found as they researched.

Many inventors first begin thinking of an invention by trying to solve a problem. Ask students to identify the problems that might have been behind the invention of different objects, such as the telephone and telegraph, sewing machine, refrigerator, and any others they can think of.


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