Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Rollover text informationAmerican Experience Logo
Secrets of a Master Builder






spacer above content
Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

James Eads"Secrets of a Master Builder" offers insights into topics in American history including engineering, entrepreneurialism, water management, transportation, geography, commerce, and the Civil War. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: history, economics, geography, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

History | Economics | Geography | Civics

1. Eads was a highly controversial figure, regarded by some as a brilliant innovator and by others as an arrogant self-promoter. After reviewing website materials such as the film description, the biography of Eads, and the biography of Andrew Humphreys, draw a political cartoon that reflects one of these views of Eads. Make sure that the message of the cartoon can be understood by someone who knows only the general outline of Eads' career.

2. Read the correspondence between Eads and his wife and the biography of Martha Eads. Then explain how, in your opinion, this information on Eads' family life should affect the way Eads is viewed as a historical figure.

3a. Examine Eads' construction drawings for the St. Louis bridge, study the Build a Bridge Pier demonstration, and view video footage of the bridge today. How do each of these resources help you understand how the bridge was built? What are the differences in what each resource can tell you?

3b. Now consider the various types of information available on James Eads (his personal letters, a timeline of his life, photographs of Eads, the bridge and jetties he built, the ship railway plan he championed). Make a list of what you learn about Eads from each of these resources. How would you describe his personality and his attitudes? What are the insights you gain into Eads' character from each of these resources? How would your assessment of Eads differ if one or more of these resources were unavailable?

History | Economics | Geography | Civics

1a. Using the film description, the update on Eads' jetties today, and the biography of James Eads, explain how Eads helped the cities of St. Louis and New Orleans prosper. How did Eads help each city overcome a geographic disadvantage that threatened to slow the city's growth?

1b. Review the description of Eads' proposed ship railway to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. If this project had been carried out, how might it have affected the economy of Mexico?

History | Economics | Geography | Civics

1. Visit the website of the US Army Corps of Engineers and find out which districts of the Corps are in your state. Then use the link provided to visit the website of the district for your community. What kinds of engineering projects are happening near you? Choose one of the Corps' projects in your district and create a fact sheet explaining the project. If you would like extra information on that project, you might want to email the public affairs department or other contact person listed at the site.

2. Review James Eads' career as described in the film description, the timeline, and the biography of James Eads. Then, using a photocopy of a map of North America, create an annotated map of places influenced by James Eads--both his wartime military projects and his postwar civilian projects. Your annotations should explain briefly when and how Eads' work affected each place.

History | Economics | Geography | Civics

1. In 1876, Scientific American called on Eads to seek the presidency. Imagine that you have been chosen to introduce him at a rally at which he will announce his candidacy. After reviewing the timeline of events of Eads' life and taking the online poll, write a brief speech explaining why he would make a good President.



Site Navigation

Secrets of a Master Builder Home | The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline | Gallery | People & Events | Teacher's Guide

The American Experience | Feedback | Search & Site Map | Shop | Subscribe | Web Credits

© New content 1999-2000 PBS Online / WGBH



Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: