Teach PA History
Railroad Advertising: Let's Go For a Ride!
Equipment & Supplies
  • Overhead projector and transparency

1. Begin class by displaying Student Handout 1: Modern Amtrak advertisement on an overhead. So that students can follow along individually, disseminate this handout to the class as well. After identifying it as a modern Amtrak ad, start a class discussion about it.

  • What is the point of this advertisement? [To get people to ride Amtrak.]

  • What is theme of this ad? [Bringing your favorite places closer.]

  • What tools are used to convey the theme?

Let's look at some visual elements:

Color: How is color used? [The ad uses bright, eye-catching colors. The colors create a patterns of lines repeated in other ways in the ad.]

Line: Can you point out the use of lines in this ad? What effect do they have? [The horizontal strips of color, the line created by the train, the line of text all work to create the feel of movement across the page. The lines in the chosen font (text style) also give a feeling of sleekness.]

Space: This ad uses space very cleverly. Can you give me an example of how? [(1)The spacing in "Bringing your favorite places closer" copies the meaning of the message. It also delivers a feeling of speed. (2) The close spacing of HARRISBURGPHILADELPHIANEWYORK also reinforces the idea of the message.

An advertisement is created with an audience in mind–a group of people to whom they want to sell the product. Based on what you see in this ad, tell me something about the society toward which this ad is aimed. [A few possibilities include: We want to conquer space with speed. We like to get places quickly. We have an appeal toward larger cities. We like choices, convenience, comfort, and savings.]

Do you think this is an effective ad? Why or why not?

2. Ask students if they think this advertisement would have been appropriate for trains in the early to mid-twentieth century. Explain that advertisements often reflect the values of their target audience. And while conquering space more quickly seems to be a theme throughout history, this ad is definitely geared more towards today's fast-paced culture.

Place the class into four cooperative teams. Assign teams based on mixed abilities and interests. This will permit varied perceptions of the artwork. Tell students they are going to be looking at different forms of advertising from the early to mid-twentieth century. They will be looking for themes, visual arts elements, and methods the artist/designer used to make railroad travel enticing. Ultimately challenge your students to discover what societal values were being addressed at the time.

Before handing out the materials to the teams, ask the class to brainstorm different types of advertisement. What possible types of advertising could each team be getting shortly? List class answers on the chalkboard. See if among the answers, students can come up with: postcards, magazine ads, calendars, and travel brochures. If not, provide appropriate hints to help them out. Then disseminate the following materials:

Team 1: postcards. This team will receive a Lackawanna Railroad Postcard , the preparatory photograph, Phoebe and Porter , and Worksheet 1: Postcard Discovery.

Team 2: magazine ads. This team will receive an image of a post World War II magazine advertisement, Start Your Vacation. They will use this ad to answer questions on Worksheet 2: Anatomy of Magazine Advertisments.

Team 3: calendar art. This team will look at Griffith Teller's Pittsburgh Promotes Progress, a black and white Pittsburgh Promotes Progress photograph, and Worksheet 3:Advertising Through Calendar Art.

Team 4: travel brochures. This team will have more reading to do than the others. They will be given Student Handout 2: Conneaut Lake Brochure and the associated worksheet, Worksheet 4: Travel Brochures Selling the Railroad.

Provide class time for students teams to complete their worksheets. Leave about 5-10 minutes at the end of class for group sharing. Or, if running late, begin Day 2 with reconvening your four teams. Ask a spokesperson from each of the four groups to share their advertisements to the whole class along with the following information:

  • If they guessed, in what era did they think their ad was created?

  • Who was the target audience of the ad?

  • How did their type of advertisement promote railroads in Pennsylvania?

  • What were some tools the advertiser used to make trains appealing?

  • Did they think their ad was effective?

After all four teams have had a chance to share with the rest of the class, tell students that they will be creating their own advertisement. Disseminate directions for your class assignment Worksheet 5: Advertising Railroads Today. Students will be choosing one of the types of advertisements they have been studying to sell the concept of rail travel to Americans today. In particular, they will be applying the tools and techniques they have studied through advertisements to create an effective ad. Read the directions below loud out together in class:

Today train travel is not as popular as it used to be in America. Trains are used more for freight than for passenger travel. Airplanes are faster; cars are more prevalent than ever. Your job is to draw the American public back to train travel. Think about segments of society you may wish to speak to–environmentally conscientious, technology lovers, Baby Boomers–the large number of babies born after World War II–1946 to 1964–who are rapidly reaching retirement. Using one of the four types of advertising studied, create an advertisement for train travel today.

Ask if your class has any questions about the assignment and encourage them to use the checklist provided them on the worksheet. This will help them organize their thoughts as they decide on a target audience, theme, and specific, supportive elements.

Refer to Rubric 1: Advertising Railroads Today to aid in assessing this class assignment.

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