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The Thomas Diary
Centennial Schoolhouse

Study and Teaching Resources

Want to use the Centennial Exhibition Digital Collection to reinforce study and teaching of standards? Here are some ideas.

Historical Thinking Skills

  1. Chronological Thinking
  2. Students can use the photograph collection as a springboard for learning about the Industrial Revolution. Photographs of steam engines, factory-produced materials, mass transportation, etc., can lead students to study circumstances and effects of the Industrial Revolution. Search on: Industrial Revolution, railroads, steam engines, telephones, carriages, water works, glass industry, textile industry, medical equipment, printers, or printing industry.

  3. Historical Comprehension
  4. The Centennial Exhibition showcased a number of innovations and inventions. Machinery Hall housed the 1,400 horsepower Corliss steam engine, an early internal combustion engine, a compressor for refrigeration and ice-making, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Telephonic Telegraphic Receiver. Students can discuss the effects of these inventions, and the inter-relationship between science, technology, and the designed world. Students can choose an invention and design a trade card or poster to advertise it.

    Many photographs in the collection document contemporary lifestyle of the 1870s, in connection with the Centennial, American life, life in other countries, and in general. Students can study the structures at the Centennial and review photographs of consumer goods and interiors. Students can compare building sizes, styles, and types to buildings in present day Philadelphia. Take the State Buildings tour, or search on: Japanese dwelling, Japanese bazaar, Furniture (including by country, e.g., Furniture–China), or clothing & dress.

  5. Historical Research Capabilities
  6. Students can use the collection as a basis for research. For example, students might formulate a hypothesis to explain differences in food production, distribution and consumption. They might examine differences in agricultural production, or packaging to formulate a hypothesis. Using other sources, students can research reasons for differences in food production, distribution and consumption. Search on canned foods, confections, farm produce, fruit, meat, Agricultural Hall, agricultural machinery, seeds, cheese, restaurants, drinking fountain, wine, or beer.

  7. Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making
  8. Students can use the photographs to study how people of the 1870s solved problems using the resources at hand. The photographs document peacetime and wartime technology. Students can visit the U.S. Government Building. Students can also search on: military art & science, artillery, ships, arms & armament, ordnance industry, Krupp’s guns, and cannons. What wars might have been fought with these weapons? What other nations exhibited weapons?

    Students also can explore transportation measures of the time. Students can read about transportation in Frank Thomas’ diary, or search on transportation, bridges, carriages, and railroads.

English Language Arts

  1. Students can use photographs from the collection to illustrate stories, poems, songs, or first-person narratives about the Centennial Exhibition. Students can then describe reasons why they chose their particular photographs to illustrate the language arts selections.
  2. After reading the teenager’s diary, students can review photographs of fairgoers and trade cards. Students can then write a piece from the point-of-view of one of the fairgoers or the workers at the fair, using photographs as illustrations. Students can be encouraged to write captions, journal entries, short stories, letters, diaries, or autobiographical sketches of subjects in the photographs. Students can then proofread and revise their draft writings.

World Languages

Thirty-seven nations exhibited at the Centennial. Students can make a list of the languages an interpreter at the Centennial might have needed to know. Visit the Foreign Countries section in Exhibition Facts.

Visual Arts

  1. As historians, students can be asked to study these artifacts of the 18th Century:

    Bartholdi’s Arm and Torch

    Stone-cutting Machine

    Doulton Ware

    Have students discuss what they see, for example, the structures, the arrangement of the elements, the clothes, and the objects. Students should avoid expressing personal feelings or interpretations.

    Have students write an objective observation of one of these image artifacts. Their description should help someone who has not seen the image to visualize it.

  2. Reflecting on artwork: have students view a selection of images of art. Search on art, jewelry, religious articles, sculpture, or monuments & memorials. Have students observe, reflect and value the characteristics, meanings, uses and merits.


Students can look at the record of expenses that Frank Thomas kept during his trip to the Centennial. They can total how much Frank spent on ice cream, or in total. Ask them to estimate what their costs would be for a one-week trip to Disneyland or Disney World. How much would transportation cost? How much for admission? How much "spending money" would they take?

Students can interpret data from the Exhibition Statistics. What month had the most attendance? What month had the largest increase over the previous month? Which building cost the most per acre? Which took the longest to complete? Did the length of time of construction have an impact on cost? Compare the statistics on the Vienna (1873) and Philadelphia (1876) Exhibitions. Can students draw any hypotheses?


Students can count the number of pieces in the Free Library of Philadelphia Centennial Sheet Music Collection. They can search for more Centennial music, and listen to some, at the Library of Congress site, Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885 at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/smhtml/smhome.html Can students name any sheet music about current events or events in their lifetime? Why was so much music written about or for the Centennial? Who bought sheet music, and why?

2001 Free Library of Philadelphia