Railroads and the Great Race to Span the Continent

Railroads and the Great Race to Span the Continent
Mary Lincoln: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One week


The railroad was the main form of mass transportation when Mary Todd Lincoln was First Lady.  Before the advent of the train, people were limited in the speed, distance, and convenience they could travel throughout the U.S.  The Lincolns were able to travel back and forth from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois (where the Lincolns resided before the Presidency).  Ironically, after Lincoln was assassinated, his body was transported back to Springfield via approximately the same route used to travel to D.C.


Students will learn the history and development of the railroad system at its birth in the 19th century.  The transcontinental railroad was the greatest transportation accomplishment of the time, as this provided a rapid link between the East and West coasts.  This development feat was named “The Great Race.”

Materials Required:

Computer Internet access Word processor (or paper and writing utensil) Research tools (books, videos, photos, and magazines)


  1. Divide the class into teams according to the following categories: Historian, Geographer, Statistician, Artist, Biographer, Features Writer, Multimedia Specialist, and Curator.  The class will design and create a “Great Race” museum to display their work and knowledge.
  2. Depending on the category that the student is placed, have the students perform research on the "Great Race" using the suggested websites (or do a search to find additional ones).
  3. Have the students display their work in the museum through various forms: models, posters, essays, maps, computer animation or drawing programs etc.

Extending the Lesson:

  • Since this lesson includes the roles of an artist and writer, it can be expanded to involve multiple classes and/or across disciplines.

Sources & Resources:

Websites: Credits:
This lesson was created by Dr. Averil McClelland and developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University.