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Inquiry Question

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Putting It All Together

The Allegheny Mountains form a natural barrier across Pennsylvania nearly half-a-mile high, separating the eastern seaboard (at Philadelphia) from the Ohio River Valley (at Pittsburgh). Nevertheless, in the 19th century it was possible to ride in a boat between those two cities without ever disembarking, even though the craft did not stay in the water the entire time. Although never a true success story in quantity of passengers or freight hauled, the Allegheny Portage Railroad did become an important testing ground for new transportation technologies. The following activities encourage students to consider the impact of past, present, and future advances in technology.

Activity 1: Innovation and Technology
In the early 1800s England was the world leader in railroad technology. The first railroads and locomotives used in the United States were based on English designs. When that technology proved unsatisfactory for the more rugged terrain found in this country, new designs were created and subsequently exported back to England and other parts of Europe. In this way, the United States emerged as a leader in railroad technology. Have students discuss the following questions:

1. Does the United States remain a world leader in technological innovations today?
2. What other technologies imported from other countries has the United States improved upon? What innovations conceived in the United States were perfected in other countries?
3. Early railroad development in this country met with opposition from canal boat operators and wagon drivers. Today, we face new technological developments every day. Do the new technologies developed over the last 50 years or so, such as television and computers, have negative aspects as well as positive ones?

Now divide the class in half, and hold a debate on the pros and cons of changes in technology. Students should ask the opinions of their parents or grandparents to see if opinions differ by generation.

Activity 2: Canals and Railroads
Pennsylvania was not the only state that possessed a complex system of canals. By the 1850s, hundreds of miles of canals crossed the eastern United States. Notable canals included the Morris Canal in New Jersey, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Maryland, the Erie Canal in New York, and the Ohio and Erie Canal in Ohio. Many of these canals had their own natural obstacles to overcome. Have students investigate the canals of several states to compare problems in building these waterways. Questions to consider include: (1) What innovative measures were developed to overcome barriers along the routes of other canals? (2) How did the inclined planes used for canals differ from those on the Allegheny Portage Railroad? Useful sources of information include Ralph K. Andrist, The Erie Canal (Mahwah, NJ: Troll Associates, 1964); Sherilyn Seyler and Kathleen Kupper, The Building of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plan; and Deborah Ayers, The Ohio and Erie Canal: Catalyst of Economic Development for Ohio, Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plan.

Activity 3: Transportation Technology: Past, Present, and Future
Have students research their community’s transportation history and write papers answering the following questions. Did the community develop as a result of improvements in transportation technology? Did the topography of the region affect transportation routes? How? Did railroads or canals play a major role in the subsequent growth of the community? If so, how and why has that role changed? Ask students to look for places associated with the community’s transportation history. Are these places still in use today? Are they still used for the same purposes? Remind students that, although it is the major means of transportation for most people today, the automobile was not introduced until the turn of the 20th century. Now ask students to imagine and describe the kinds of transportation they think might be available a century from now. Consider some of the effects this future means of transportation might have on the community. (For example, will the relationships between where people live, work, and spend leisure time be the same as they are today? Will there be a need for specialized buildings or building designs? What new equipment, services, and jobs will this new type of transportation bring?) Hold a class discussion on the students’ responses.



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