Social Studies

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Edison: Boyhood and Teen Years

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Find out how young Thomas Edison’s curiosity got him into trouble, and how, during his teen years, he lost his hearing but gained confidence as an aspiring inventor, in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Edison. As portrayed through reenactments, we learn that Edison, who had just three months of formal schooling, grew up reading and conducting chemistry experiments. His job as a newsboy on a train inspired his fascination with the telegraph. After teaching himself Morse Code so he could send and receive messages, Edison took a job as a telegraph operator at the age of 15. Through his work, and despite premature hearing loss, he developed an understanding of how the telegraph system operated and how he might improve it. He began to think of himself as an inventor. This resource is part of the Thomas Edison Collection.

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Edison: Impact of Technology on Society

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Imagine the world when electric light was first introduced, and reflect on the impact that new inventions have on ordinary people in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Edison. In late 19th-century America, machines were ushering the country into the modern world. But with the awe and wonder that radical change provoked, technology also brought a certain amount of anxiety to ordinary people. This resource is part of the Thomas Edison CollectionCaution: This video includes the use of the word "hell."

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Edison: Invention Laboratory at Menlo Park

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Discover how Thomas Edison’s invention laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, and the team he hired to work with him, all fit into his vision of how he would become a great inventor in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Edison. In late 1876, Edison opened a fully equipped 5,000 square foot innovation laboratory that would provide him and a small group of experimental assistants and skilled machinists a place to invent. With all kinds of chemicals, organic materials, scientific instruments, and shop tools available to them, the men worked day and night, intent on figuring out things that nobody had yet thought of. This resource is part of the Thomas Edison Collection.

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Edison: Electric Light

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Discover how Thomas Edison’s team built on past innovations to develop the first successful electric light bulb in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Edison. Edison announced he would start work on electric light in 1878, to address the problems with existing lighting options, which included gaslights and arc lighting. While many inventors had patented versions of the most promising technology, an incandescent bulb, no bulb could yet produce light for more than 15 seconds, let alone several hours. Edison used his fame to attract the funding needed for his team to test and prototype a solution. Their efforts eventually paid off. On October 22, 1879, a bulb fitted with a filament of carbonized cotton thread burned in Edison’s laboratory for more than 13.5 hours. This resource is part of the Thomas Edison Collection.

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Fusion: Testing the First Hydrogen Device

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The 1952 test of the first hydrogen device--code-named "Mike," for "megaton"--in the Pacific Ocean's Marshall Islands signaled a new era in weapons capabilities. The devastation presented in this video segment, adapted from American Experience: Race for the Superbomb, demonstrates just how foreboding the signal was. Watch what prompted then-United States president Harry Truman to speak publicly about the dangers ahead for a world in which such weapons existed.

Freedom Riders: The Inspiration

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In this video segment from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch interviews and newsreel footage and see archival photos to learn how Mahatma Gandhi, the leader in the struggle for an independent India, inspired and influenced those engaged in the struggle to end racial discrimination in the United States. Gandhi's use of nonviolence had allowed the people of India to win independence from Great Britain in 1947. While Gandhi declined an invitation from American civil rights leaders to become directly involved in the U.S. struggle for equal rights, his encouragement persuaded them that the tactic of nonviolence also held great potential in a struggle for the rights of a minority. This resource is part of the American Experience: Freedom Riders collection

The Pilgrims: William Bradford

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Examine the events that informed the spirituality of young William Bradford, what drew him to the Separatist movement, and what eventually led him and the other Pilgrims to America, where he would serve as governor of Plymouth Colony, in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Pilgrims. As a boy, Bradford took solace in the Bible after much of his family died. Inspired by a passage that suggested that God is accessible, and that a small congregation of people can find their way to God, Bradford later joined with other Separatists to immigrate to America in a quest for religious freedom. This resource is part of the American Experience: The Pilgrims collection.

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