Educator Resources

Petition Signed by Thomas A. Edison for Sunday Openings at the World's Columbian Exposition

Teaching Activities

Standards Correlations

This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.

  • Era 6 -The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)
    • Standard 2B -Demonstrate understanding of the struggle for equal rights.
    • Standard 2C -Demonstrate understanding of how new cultural movements at different social levels affected American life.

This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.

  • Standard I.B.4 -Explain and evaluate competing ideas regarding the relationship between political and economic freedoms.
  • Standard II.A.2 -Explain the extent to which Americans have internalized the values and principles of the Constitution and attempted to make its ideals realities.

Constitutional Connection

This lesson focuses on petitioning the federal government, peaceably assembling, and exercising freedom of speech and religion, all of which are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Cross-curricular Connections

Share this assignment with colleagues who teach U. S. government, U.S. history, and any course that requires students learn research skills using Internet sources and other primary sources.

Introductory Activity

  1. Ask students if they have ever attended a large fair or exhibition or an event such as the Olympic games. Instruct them to list the features they remember from it. These could include the food, entertainment, exhibits, athletic events, and the number of people. Instruct them to also list any controversies they recall. These might include crowd control, hours of operation, cost, and the dress code. Next, inform students that in 1893 a large fair was held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to the New World. Ask students how they think this fair would compare with the ones whose features they have described.

Document Analysis

  1. Provide each student with a photocopy of the featured document, and distribute a copy of the Document Analysis Worksheet, or make a transparency with the following questions: What type of document is this? What is the date of the document? Who wrote the document? What is the purpose of the document? What information in the document helps you understand why it was written? What additional questions does the document prompt? Ask one student to read the document aloud as the others read silently. Lead the class in oral responses to the questions.


  1. Ask students to identify other features and controversies of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 by searching Internet and library resources. Divide students into three teams. Assign one team to research using the search engine Yahoo!, the second team to research using WebCrawler, and the third team to use only paper-based research. Ask student groups to draw a map of features that dominated the physical layout of the site, a list of items that made a debut at the fair, and a list of controversies exposed by the fair. Ask a volunteer from each group to show their maps and read their lists to the class. Ask other volunteers to review orally the process their group followed in conducting research. Lead them in a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of search engines and research methods.

  2. Require students to evaluate two of the web sites or textual resources they located in Activity 3. The evaluation should include author, authority of author, content, point of view, and date entered and updated. The format for the bibliographical entry should follow the MLA Style. Discuss with students the First Amendment issues that protect postings on Internet.

Group Discussion

  1. The featured petition asserts that "The closing of the exposition on Sundays will deprive more than three millions of our people of these advantages." Ask students how they think that number was determined and why so many people would only have been able to attend the fair on a Sunday. Instruct students to read the section of their textbook that discusses labor conditions of the late 19th century.

Creative Writing

  1. Ask students to review their texts for information about the Women's Movement during this period. Ask pairs of students to write a dialogue in which two people debate the questions: How should the fair display the exhibits of works produced by American women? Should they be exhibited separately or integrated with the works produced by men?

  2. Ask the students to consider whether they would have signed the petition and write a one-page explanation of their decision. The document included in this project is from Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate.

It is available online through the National Archives Catalog National Archives Identifier:


The National Archives Catalog replaces its prototypes, the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) and NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL). You can still perform a keyword, digitized image and location search. The online catalog's advanced functionalities also allow you to search by organization, person, or topic.

The online catalog is a searchable database that contains information about a wide variety of NARA holdings across the country. You can use the National Archives Catalog to search record descriptions by keywords or topics and retrieve digital copies of selected textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings related to thousands of topics.

Currently, about 80% of NARA's vast holdings have been described in the National Archives Catalog. Thousands of digital images can be searched in the National Archives Catalog. In keeping with NARA's Strategic Plan, the percentage of holdings described in the National Archives Catalog will grow continually.

This article was written by Linda Simmons, an associate professor at Northern Virginia Community College in Manassas, VA.

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