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Railway System in Iowa in the 1800's

Lesson Plan Item

General Information
Grade 7th Grade, 8th Grade Class Iowa History Length of Lesson 50 Minutes
Lesson Title Railway System in Iowa in the 1800's
Unit Title Transportation in Iowa
Unit Compelling Question What is the lasting impact of transportation in Iowa?
Historical Context:

2018.056.001  One of eight large-scale pictorial maps of midwestern states showing routes and post offices of the Railway Mail Service. Designed by Chicago railway mail clerk Frank H. Galbraith to help employees of the Railway Mail Service quickly locate counties and post offices. The maps were rented for practicing or prospective workers who numbered over 6,000 and traveled over a million miles a year on the rails sorting mail. A printed title cartouche accompanied by a list of counties for each of the states by McEwen Map Company of Chicago is pasted on the maps.

~ Lauren Adams, Teaching Iowa History Team
Lesson Supporting Question Why did the railway system expand into the Midwest? What are some features of Galbraith's railway map?
Lesson Overview

A brief history on the railway system first expanding into Iowa, including the motivation for the expansion and the effects that the railway systems had. Then, an introduction to the Galbraith railway map, followed by two activities using the map. Finish with an exit ticket.

Primary Sources Used
Resources Needed





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Lesson Target
  • Students will be able to identify the motivations of building railways in the Midwest.
  • Students will be able to identify the impact the railway had on Iowa in the 1800's.
  • Students will be able to explain how to get from one town to another using the Galbraith map.
  • Students will be able to illustrate town names based on the Galbraith style.
  • Students will be able to locate towns on an older map based on their location on a modern map.
Lesson Themes Rail
Lesson Procedure
Step Procedure Time Differentiation plan / Additional Information
Hook Brief review of other forms of transportation already covered thus far in the unit. Transition into the railway system: "Time to start picking up speed!" 3 minutes  
Activity 1 Presentation over the railway system. (Appendix A in Resources) 20 minutes  
Activity 2 The presentation ends on the introduction of the Railway Post Office (RPO) which will transition into this activity. Students will be asked to get on their computers and navigate to the Library of Congress website where they will be shown the Galbraith Railway Mail Map. Inform the students that this is a map used by the Railway Mail Service in 1897 and then allow the students 5-7 minutes to explore the map on their own and discuss it with their classmates. Afterwards, ask the students for some features that they noticed on the map. Discuss how maps were expensive and so were usually only rented, therefore pictures were added in order to make the towns easier to remember once the map was returned.  5 minutes  
Activity 3 Have students get out a piece of paper and ask them to write down the names of two of their favorite towns on the map. Then inform the that they need to read the Galbraith map and using the key, tell how they would get from their first town to the second town using the railway system. Ask a few students to share their route. 10 minutes Use worksheet (see Appendix B in Resources) as a guide for this activity, Be aware that if you use this worksheet, students will be able to see what step 2 of the activity is and may deliberately pick two towns that are close together in order to make the activity easier for themselves.
Activity 4 Hand out pre-cut squares of paper and ask students to use Google Maps or an image of a modern Iowa map in order to select a city in Iowa and draw a picture for it in the style of the Galbraith map. Then, project the Galbraith map and have students identify where their town is located on the Galbraith map and tape their drawings to it.   If worksheet is given in the above activity, use the space provided below the dotted line. Have students use scissors to cut (or fold and tear) on the dotted line so the drawing can be taped to the projected map.
Closing Exit ticket! At either the bottom or on the back of the piece of paper used to identify the route between two towns, have students list at least one motivation that the railway system had for expanding into Iowa and one effect that the railway system had on Iowa. 5 minutes If worksheet is given, have students use the provided space on the back.
Formative Assessment
(How will you use the formative assessments to monitor and inform instruction?)
  • Activity 2 - Asking students for features from the Galbraith map to see what it is that the students found most important/interesting.
  • Activity 3 - Request a few students to share how they would get from one location to another to get a sampling of how well the class is interpreting their maps. Also check a sampling of these when they are turned in as the exit ticket.
  • Activity 4 - Have students post their illustration on the projected map to see that they can relate the modern-day map to the Galbraith map.
Summative Assessment
(How does the lesson connect to planned summative assessment(s)?)
  • Closing - Exit ticket to see that they have identified at least one motivation and one effect of having the railway system in Iowa.
Author Information
Author Ashlin Hayungs Reviewer Chad Christopher, History Education, University of Northern Iowa Created 06/13/2019 Last Edited 09/05/2019
Lesson Plan Development Notes: Teaching Methods, University of Northern Iowa, Spring 2019

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