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The American Experience

Suggestions for the Classroom

Time period: 1876 - 1915
Themes: business, technology, cultural values

The telephone was first introduced at the Centennial Exposition in 1876 and was an instant success. Although first rented only to "persons of good breeding" and seen as an expensive luxury for doctors and businessmen, the telephone soon transformed American life. Trees gave way to telephone poles as operators known as "hello girls" began to connect a sprawling continent.

Before Viewing Discussion

  1. As a class, create a list of communication technologies, such as telephones, computers, and fax machines. For three days, have students keep a record of all the technologies they use to communicate. What technologies did they record? How would they communicate differently without these technologies? How might their lifestyles be different?

  2. What strategies might inventors use to protect their inventions? What strategies might business people use to make their businesses profitable? As students watch, have them take notes on how Bell protected his invention and how business people made profits from the telephone.

After Viewing Discussion

  1. Ask students to share the strategies they noted. Would they have made the same decisions? Why or why not? Could Bell and the businessmen have all achieved their goals using other strategies?

  2. How did Bell, Hubbard, and Morgan create monopolies? What are the benefits and dangers of monopolies for companies and consumers? Are there monopolies today? Explain.

  3. How did the telephone change conversation, etiquette, and privacy? Have students write about how another communication technology has influenced social values.

  4. How did the decision to hire women telephone operators reflect or challenge contemporary attitudes about women? How was the operator work similar or different from other jobs women held at the time?