Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

Instruments of Change: Using the McCormick-International Harvester Poster Collection in the Classroom

This teacher-submitted, secondary-level lesson plan appeared in Badger History Bulletin. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs. 

Author: David Driscoll, Curator of Business and Technology State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Office of School Services


During the late nineteenth 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.


  • Students will gain knowledge about nineteenth-century technological changes and develop analytical skills by analyzing a primary source.
  • Students will think critically and make intelligent inferences.
  • Students will select significant changes caused by technology and analyze the effects of these changes in the United States.


1. Locate poster number 11 on the Art of the Draw: Advertising Posters from the McCormick-International Harvester Collection virtual exhibit.

2. Produce several copies of this poster. Make sure the copies do not contain the exhibit caption. The activity will be enhanced if the students have access to color copies.

3. Distribute copies of the poster to groups of students and have them analyze the poster by answering the following questions: 

  • 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 and 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?

Adapted from PBS web-site sections on Using Primary Source Documents

4. After students have finished answering the questions, discuss their responses. 

5. 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.

Selected Topics for Further Research

Many of these topics relate directly to the National History Day 2000-2001 theme, Frontiers in History: People, Places, Ideas

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

Enhancement Activity

Additional teaching activities using the advertising posters from the McCormick-International Harvester Collection can be found within the Art of the Draw virtual exhibit.

  • Questions about this page? Email us
  • Email this page to a friend
select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text