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Classroom Activities for Art of the Draw

Handbills and advertising posters have long been used to showcase commercial products, although both the medium and the message have changed over time.

The following activities have been designed to allow students to examine the ideas presented in "Art of the Draw" online exhibit.

Students will:
  • have the opportunity to look carefully at the selected posters in the McCormick-International Harvester Collection
  • use the historic posters as a basis for analyzing, comparing, and contrasting the advertising of the past and that of the present

All activities may be modified to meet the needs of your students.

Activity 1

Technology Influences Design

Enlarge Harvesting Machinery poster.

Printing Technology Poster

Color Lithograph, ca. 1876. Printed by Clay and Co. (Buffalo and Chicago)
for C.H. & L.J. McCormick (Chicago)
22.25" x 28"
WHI 2343


Changing technologies used to produce posters strongly influence design. In the mid-19th century, the introduction of lithography revolutionized poster graphics. Instead of static hand-engraved or block-printed images set within the constraints of letterpress printing, artists could now use oily chalk to draw pictures and text directly onto printing stones or plates. Where text dominated earlier posters, those done with lithography displayed more color and images placed in central locations. Poster artists now had more artistic freedom to achieve the "look" they wanted. The advertising posters in the McCormick-International Harvester collection provide the opportunity for students to explore the differences in those posters designed before and after lithography was widely available, and to understand the changes that occurred.


Ask students to examine the six posters found under the Printing Technology category and their captions in order generate a list of the various documented chronological changes. Afterwards have students pick a current product (a popular packaged food item, car, or clothing label, for example) in order to create a series of three posters representing the different techniques found in the McCormick posters. Have students focus their posters in three categories: Before Lithography, Color Lithography, Beyond Color Lithography.

If students want to replicate the actual techniques of lithography, look for a classroom kit called "Paper Plate Lithography" at various art stores or in art supply catalogs.

Activity 2

What's the Message?

Enlarge Champion Cowboy and horse poster.

Iconography Poster

Color Lithograph, 1913. Printed by Hayes Lithographing Co. (Buffalo)
for International Harvester Co. (Chicago)
29" x 19.75"
WHI 3579


The advertising posters of the McCormick-International Harvester collection allow us the opportunity not only to view the technological change in farm machinery, but also to examine the methods used in advertising around the turn of the century. Many of these methods are still used today.


Have students examine the following posters under the Iconography category (12, 14, 18, 30, 31), paying close attention to the captions written for each poster.

Discuss student observations, with questions, such as:

  • Who are the potential customers?
  • What makes the poster effective in marketing the product?
  • How does the marketing fit the intended audience?

Have students observe the similarities and differences in advertising themes today versus in the past (factories are no longer shown with smoke billowing out, for example, but "romantic" images still find a place). Then construct a chart on the board, which summarizes the advertising methods used. Then ask students (as "prime-time investigators") to gather present-day examples of similar advertising methods. (See the sample chart below) A discussion concerning the relative persuasiveness of advertising can serve as closure to this activity.

Sample Chart
"Fantasy" landscapes for machinery capabilities TV ad for Jeep Cherokee driving up side of snow covered roof
Placing contemporary products in historic scenes TV ad for Coors Beer with John Wayne
Use of wild west and cowboy images to sell products Magazine ad for Marlboro cigarettes - the Marlboro man
Use of child to exploit and emotional response Michelin tires

Many examples, from car wax to soft drinks to automobiles
Ad centers around a pretty woman, the product is definitely secondary Automobiles, soft drinks

Activity 3

Another Look at the Collection

Enlarge Sembradoras de Maiz de tres surcos Spanish language International Harvester poster.

Color Lithograph, 1916

Printed by Rolland & Carqueville Co. (Chicago)
for International Harvester Corp. (Chicago)
32.25" x 21.75"
WHI 3598

The McCormick-International Harvester Collection includes over 200,000 photographs and about 3,000 advertising posters. Archivists and curators at the Wisconsin Historical Society selected the posters and developed the categories in which to place them for this virtual exhibit. Students can begin to understand this process by re-categorizing or re-arranging the posters into their own categories.


Divide the class into groups and assign each group a selection/series of posters from the exhibit to examine. Each group should report to the class as a whole on the posters they encountered. Summarize these discoveries on the board alongside the established categories:

After the class is familiar with the entire exhibit, each group can create its own categories and regroup the images accordingly. Have groups present their choices, and discuss.

Activity 4

Instruments of Change

Enlarge The Deering All-Steel Binder poster.

Color Lithograph, ca. 1883

Unknown Printer
for William Deering & Co. (Chicago)
21.5" x 27.5"
WHI 4386


During the late 19th century technological change transformed American life. Most easily recalled are the changes associated with the growth of factories and urban areas. Yet during this same time period significant changes were also occurring on the family farm. Students will develop their analytical skills by critically examining an advertising poster from the McCormick-International Harvester Collection. The process will suggest the various perspectives and values held by people during this time period.


Produce several copies of Color Lithograph, ca. 1883. Make sure the copies do NOT contain the exhibit caption. Distribute copies of the poster to groups of students and have them analyze the poster by answering the guided questions found below. After students have finished answering the questions discuss the responses out loud. Students can learn more about this time period and expand upon the theme of progress by doing further research on one of the topics found below.

Guiding Questions for Poster 11
  • Who produced this poster? When? How can you tell?
  • Who do you think is the intended audience for this poster?
  • What is happening in the poster? What story does it tell?
  • Why was the poster produced? What is its purpose? How can you tell?
  • What can you tell about the values or beliefs of the creators of this poster? of the intended audience of this poster?
  • What generalizations can we make about the past from this poster?
  • Are these generalizations important to us today? Why or why not?

Learn More

Use these selected topics for further research.

  • Commercial art: selling through aesthetics
  • The Industrial Revolution and the making of a consumer society
  • The changing nature of American rural life
  • American agricultural inventiveness
  • "Big" industry: farm equipment and the incorporation of American agriculture
  • Agricultural industry and its effect on settlement in the Midwest
  • International marketing of American agricultural equipment and/or products

[Sources: Guiding questions were adapted from the PBS website section on Using Primary Source Documents]