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Harriman Expedition Retraced



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How Has Transportation Changed Since the 1899 Harriman Alaska Expedition?


Grade level: Kindergarten

Subjects: Geography, history

Estimated Time Needed for Completion: Three class periods of one-half to one hour each

Objectives for Students

  • To recognize modes of transportation.
  • To research historical data from a variety of primary and secondary sources including the Harriman expedition journals, related web sites, and photographs from the expedition.
  • To compare modes of transportation used by the past Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899 to the Harriman Expedition Retraced in 2001.



  • Correlates to the national standards set by the National Council of Geographic Education.
  • The student understands: The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on earth's surface, and the transportation and communication networks used in daily life. (Standard 11)


  • Correlates to the national standards set by the National Center for History in the schools.
  • The student is able to engage in chronological thinking (Standard 1)
  • The student is able to conduct historical research (Standard 4)


  • For sharing, the class will need a feeling box, a toy boat, a toy car, a toy plane, globe, graphs cut in the shape of a boat, car, bus, train, and plane, tape, a computer with Internet access, markers, chart paper, and a bulletin board labeled "The Harriman Alaska Expedition, 1899" and "Harriman Retraced, 2001."
  • Each student will need drawing paper, pencils, markers, scissors, and five paper circles, two to three inches in diameter.



This lesson plan is used to introduce a unit on transportation and how it has changed from 1899 to 2001. It is based on the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, an expedition that used almost every mode of travel available in that time period. Most of the participants took trains to reach the starting point in Seattle, then traveled by boat up the coast. Along the way they used row-boats, naphtha-powered motorboats, canoes, horses, and the railroad to explore different spots along the way. They also used foot power. In Glacier Bay, for example, Harriman and several others hiked forty-eight miles in two days, hoping to find bear.


Begin by having students reach into the feeling box (a cardboard box with a hole cut in it and a piece of material acting as a curtain) one at a time. The box contains a toy car, a toy plane, and a toy boat. As the students reach into the box, the teacher states that the box contains three items and asks the students to think about what these three things have in common. After every student has had a turn the whole class meets to discuss what the items are and their relationship.

Introduce the term transportation to the students –&emdash; this is a means or way of getting people or things from one place to another. Ask the students if they can think of modes of transportation besides cars, planes, and boats.

Write and draw a picture to create a list of the students' ideas on chart paper.

Class Activities Part I – Making a Class Transportation Graph

After the students have finished giving as many modes of transportation as they can, display the shapes of a car, boat, bus, plane, and train cut from large colored or butcher paper. Divide each shape in half with a line, marking one side “Yes,” the other “No.” Explain that these will become graphs, charts what kinds of transportation students in this class have used.

Tell the students they are going to chart what modes of transportation they have used by placing a circle on the “yes” side of the graphs that they’ve used, a circle on the “no” side of the ones they have not used yet. Give each student five circles, and working one-at-a-time or in groups, have them tape their circles to the correct side of each graph. (Optional: they can draw a face or another design on their circles, but this will take additional time.)

When students finish placing the faces on the graphs, ask them for observations.

Class Activities Part II – Traveling to Alaska in 1899

Review the definition of transportation, and list the different modes shown on the graphs. Remind the students that these graphs give us information about transportation today. Introduce the idea of history, the study of things that happened in the past.

Tell the students to imagine they are going on a trip that will begin in New York and go to Alaska. Show them the globe and the beginning point and the destination. Now tell them that over 100 years ago in 1899 a man named Edward H. Harriman went on this trip and called it the Harriman Alaska Expedition. As a comparison, show students their own location on the globe.

Share stories from the introduction to the 1899 trip from the Web site, and include facts about transportation. Edward Harriman was a railroad owner. On the trip, he had a special train take many of the people from New York to Seattle by train. It took several days, during which time they ate and slept while the train traveled west.

Some of the people used cameras to take pictures of the things they saw. By looking at the photographs on the computer, we can join them on a virtual expedition. Use the web site to show the students the photographs. Be certain to include the photographs that show the modes of transportation . Discuss the photos as you find them. Discuss what the journey would have been like. (Would it be fast or slow? Would you be comfortable? How long do you think it would take?)

After looking at the photographs, ask the students to talk about the modes of transportation the Harriman Alaska Expedition used. Write and draw the modes of transportation on a piece of chart paper that is labeled "Harriman Alaska Expedition, 1899." Give the students a piece of drawing a paper and markers to draw a mode of transportation the people in 1899 used on the Harriman Alaska Expedition. Students color and cut out their pictures. Collect the pictures for the next day.

Classroom Activities Part III – Transportation Then and Now:

Review transportation the different modes discussed, and review the Harriman Alaska Expedition and how the people traveled to Alaska.

Tell the students that a group of people are going to retrace their journey using the modes of transportation we have today in 2001. The beginning point is New York.

Would the people in 2001 travel in the same mode of transportation today? Why or why not?

Remind the class that in 1899, people used trains, horses and carriages, and steamers to get to Alaska. Today most people would use a plane to get to Alaska.

Discuss all of the different modes of transportation that would be used and why. Note how the boats/ships have changed. (Have the students look at the picture of the steamer George W Elder and the ship the Clipper Odyssey on the web site.

Give the students a piece of drawing paper and marker to draw a mode of transportation that would be used in 2001. After the students have colored and cut out their pictures, pass out the papers from yesterday. Explain that the students are going to place their pictures on the bulletin board labeled "Transportation Past and Present." They must decide if the picture will go on the side that is labeled "The Harriman Alaska Expedition, 1899" or the side that is labeled "Harriman Expedition Retraced, 2001."

As the students place their pictures on the bulletin board, they will state how transportation has changed over the last 100 years.

Assessment Suggestions

  • Students should be able to draw one mode of transportation used by the Harriman Alaska Expedition, 1899 and on used by the Harriman Expedition Retraced, 2001.
  • They should be able to place the pictures in the correct section of "past" or "present" on the bulletin board.
  • Students should be able to give an example of how transportation has changed in the past 100 years.


  • Search for other modes of transportation used in 1899 not seen in the photographs of the Harriman Alaska Expedition. Draw a pictures and post on the bulletin board.
  • Search for other modes of transportation used in 2001 that would not be used to retrace the Harriman Expedition. Draw a picture and post.
  • Create a piggy-back song to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus" that tells about past and present modes of transportation. Students can create new verses to go with the pictures they drew.

The people long ago used to row a boat, row a boat, row a boat.

The people long ago used to row a boat to get from here to there.

The people nowadays drive a car, drive a car, drive a car.

The people nowadays drive a car to get from here to there.


For more pictures, visit Harriman Links and search the Harriman Alaska Expedition: Chronicles and Souvenirs, May to August 1899 web site and the Images from the Harriman Expedition at the University of Washington web site.

Prepared by Sara Lamont, Iditarod Elementary School, Wasilla, Alaska




For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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