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Putting It All Together

The following activities will help students to understand the inextricable connections between wheat fields, flour mills, and railroads during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Activity 1: The Web of Interdependence
Break the students into three groups, with each group working on either (1) flour mills, (2) wheat farms, or (3) railroads. Ask each group to review the readings and then list all words or concepts they can think of that show the interdependence of their topic with the other two topics. After about 10 minutes, have students debate which element was most important. Would farms producing thousands of bushels of wheat have been able to make money if they had to haul their grain to the mills by horse and wagon? Could huge mills have existed without enormous wheat crops? Would railroads have been important even without wheat to carry? What do they think would have happened if any one of these elements was no longer able to function?

Activity 2: Reactions to Interdependence
Explain to students that while interdependence can be efficient and profitable, it can also create problems. During the late 19th century, farmers, consumers, and politicians became increasingly concerned about the growing power of the railroads and other large corporations. Divide students into groups asking them to research the history of one of the following topics: anti-trust legislation, the muckrakers and their denunciations of big business, the Grange movement, and Populism. Conduct a full class discussion on these topics, then compare the benefits of business concentration and railroad domination with the problems they created.

Activity 3: Change Over Time in the Local Community
The success of the flour mills in Minneapolis was closely tied to the work of wheat farms hundreds of miles away. Have students study their own communities for examples of this kind of dependence. Begin by having them identify a leading industry in their community, where it gets its necessary raw materials, equipment, and supplies, and how they are transported. It may be possible to interview someone from that business, or have them come to speak to the class. Ask whether the things the industry needs are provided by a single source or by many suppliers. What effect might that have on the amount of dependence? Do any of the businesses' raw materials or other supplies come from foreign countries? How are they transported? Then ask the students if they think foreign trade creates the same kind of interdependence seen in this lesson.

Then ask students to look for current or former businesses in their community whose success or failure resulted from the growth or decline of another industry. The coming of the automobile provides examples of both. It created a need for car sales and repair businesses, gasoline stations, and tire and muffler stores, but made livery stables, blacksmiths, and carriage makers obsolete. Ask students to identify any properties in the community that are or were associated with any of the businesses they found. Then have them write a short paper in which they compare the development of their community with that of Minneapolis. Have them note similarities, differences, and changes over time.

 

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