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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > An American Time Capsule

[Detail] Millions of acres, Iowa and Nebraska, 1872

Chronological Thinking: Interpreting Timelines

An American Time Capsule contains 265 advertisements, most from the second half of the nineteenth century. The advertisements are designed to sell an array of products, from the Philosophic Hat (1843) to Dr. J. Bovee Dods' Imperial Wine Bitter for the cure of weak lungs and weak stomachs (1859), nutritive coffee, a product made from vegetables (1862), and Gale's Horse Hay Rake (1875).

Browse the collection by Genre, clicking on Advertisements. Browse through a number of the advertisements, choosing one from each decade from the 1830s through the 1890s. You may want to choose advertisements for similar kinds of products or simply choose ads that you like. Print out the ads and make an illustrated timeline of advertising in the nineteenth century. Examine the ads in chronological order:

  • What techniques were used to arouse interest in the products?
  • To what extent did the nineteenth-century advertisements "stretch the truth"?
  • How did advertisements change over the decades you examined? How did they remain the same?
  • How have advertisements changed since the 1890s? How have they remained the same?

Construct a similar illustrated timeline of campaign literature, searching the collection for documents on political campaigns. Analyze your campaign timeline as you analyzed the advertising timeline, looking for continuity and change in campaign literature.