Teaching Guide: Exploring Electricity in America

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Electrifying America, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Why do you think that a power company would be called the “pride” of a town in an 1898 article? Why do you think the authors of the atlas chose to include this description so prominently? What message does it send readers about the town and its people?

  2. Look at the data in the excerpts from Forty Years of Edison Service. What do these numbers tell us about the development of electric power? What do the numbers imply about its growth as an industry? About its customers?

  3. Why do you think electric companies would produce booklets like Recipes for Cooking by Electricity, particularly in the early 1900s? Who is the intended audience for this text and why?

  4. Using the items in this set as a guide, explain how the development and commercialization of electricity impacted other industries.

Classroom activities

In the excerpt from Edison as I Know Him, Henry Ford writes of Edison: “We are only learning to use the tools and the methods that he has given to us. Already our general prosperity leads the world, and this is due to the fact that we have had Edison. Nearly every important factor in our prosperity directly or indirectly traces back to some invention by him.” Ask students to make a poster showing developments that followed from the advent of electric light. What are some other inventions or technological breakthroughs that we can now “trace” our “prosperity” back to? In what ways do developments coming from these mirror the developments that came from electric power?

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