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The American Experience
Suggestions for the Classroom

He was a master promoter who produced elaborate spectacles to sell bicycles and cars. Carl Fisher had already made a fortune when he was seized by a vision. On a narrow spit of swampland near Miami, Fisher created a tropical paradise of sand and palm trees, then masterminded a dazzling sales campaign. It worked -- until a devastating hurricane and the Crash of 1929 brought an end to his dream.

Time Period: 1874-1939

Themes: post-World War I prosperity, consumer culture, business, advertising and PR, automobiles and roads, Florida Land Boom

Before Watching

  1. When students think of the American frontier in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, what parts of the United States do they think it refers to? When do students think Florida was settled?

  2. Have students bring in advertisements from magazines and newspapers related to resorts and travel. What do the advertisers think is appealing to consumers about these places? What kind of people are the ads targeting and what do the advertisers think these people like to do with their leisure time? If students have been to any of featured locations, how realistic is the image portrayed by the ads?
After Watching

  1. Howard Kleinberg says of Fisher that "Everything he did he went into it with his heart, his soul, his money, and he would not stop until he reached the end. He wanted to be there the quickest and first..., the type of person that I don't think this generation could create or endure." Do you agree or disagree with this last statement? What characteristics do you attribute to Fisher? Can you think of anyone like him who is active now? What was it about the time and place when Fisher lived that contributed to who he was? Do you think it's possible for one person today to have the kind of impact Fisher did?

  2. Patterns of development in this country are closely tied to available-and effective-modes of transportation (i.e., without usable roads, the automobile would not have become as important). In order for Carl Fisher to create his Florida paradise, he had to make sure people could get there easily so he built the Dixie Highway. Have students choose a mode of transportation-e.g., canals, trains, automobiles-and look at how it developed and how it affected the economy, the settlement of this country, people's lives, etc.

  3. Often when people think of the settlement of this country, they think it started on the coasts and flowed across the middle, particularly from the East to the West. Florida offered its own opportunities for frontier exploration, exploitation, and development. After it was purchased from Spain, European settlers, so-called "wreckers," lived off the bounty from shipwrecks. Then several small booms occurred as people tried to exploit the land to raise cattle, cotton, artichokes, and other crops, none of which panned out. With the coming of the railroad and then the automobile, Florida was ripe for development. Have students research the mid-'20s Florida land boom. What fueled it? Who were the major players? What was unique about the different resorts that developed? Why was Florida so appealing to investors? What were the results?

  4. Carl Fisher was a promotional genius. Mass advertising and public relations are a particularly twentieth-century phenomenon. What do students think was necessary for advertising and PR to take off? [mass media, particularly newspapers and newsreels, movies, and radio] Have students create an illustrated timeline that shows the development of advertising and PR, from early promotional stunts like the circus parade and medicine shows, to advertising cards and the Sears catalog, up through the birth of television and the sophisticated advertising and promotional strategies of today. Students can use facsimiles of past advertisements and cut out modern ones from contemporary magazines to include on the timeline. Have students discuss the messages being communicated through specific examples at different periods. In what ways has advertising become more subtle? In what ways is it using the same methods to sell products and ideas? How have consumers changed? Would the methods Fisher used work with today's consumers?

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