Trains and Travel: Then and Now

The need for transportation to move people and objects has always existed. Students will study how travel for many people in the early twentieth century centered on trains. Those travelers often relied on the services of a group of men known as Pullman Porters.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Compare ways individuals and groups in the local community and state lived in the past to how they live today, including forms of communication, types of clothing, types...
Construct a timeline to depict the evolution of a technology over time. Some suggestions are as follows: automobiles, planes, refrigeration, telecommunication,...
Analyze primary and secondary source maps, photographs, and artifacts for contradictions, supporting evidence, and historical details.
Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to gather additional information or clarify something that is not understood.
Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
Participate with varied peers and adults in collaborative conversations in small or large groups about appropriate Kindergarten topics.
Confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media by asking and answering questions about key details and...
Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

Upon completion of this lesson, students will have been introduced to the changes in preferred forms of transportation over time. They will be able to list the duties of a Pullman Porter by using primary source images and identifying the duties being performed. Students will also learn to analyze different types of primary sources. Extension: They will be able to compare those duties with what a flight attendant is required to do.

Essential and guiding questions: 

What was travel like at the beginning of the twentieth century as compared to travel today? Specifically, what was it like to travel by train? 

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • Using the images of flight attendants from the Materials list, have students compare the duties of Pullman porters to those of flight attendants. Ask them, “Why do you think we need help in certain forms of transportation but not in others? We don’t have porters on the school bus.”
  • Ask students to think back on what they shared at the start of the lesson. Did any of them list a train as a form of travel they had experienced? If so, did the train they were on have the same things seen in the photos, like bunks and porters?

Helpful Hints


  • The Pullman Porter by Vanita Oelschlager


  • Primary Source Analysis Tool
  • Transportation Timeline

Library of Congress Images – Pullman Porters

  • Pullman porter making up an upper berth aboard the "Capitol Limited," bound for Chicago, Illinois [1942]
  • Pullman compartment cars through trains -- interior of dining cars on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton R.R. [1894]
  • [Porter handing young woman a glass of water in railroad sleeping car] [1905]
  • Standard Pullman car on a deluxe overland limited train [1910]
  • All aboard for the Limited [1910]
  • Pullman porter checking the list of hours he is to wake people in the morning aboard the "Capitol Limited" bound for Chicago, Illinois [1942]
  • Chicago, Illinois. Pullman porters receiving reservation diagrams for their trains through pneumatic tubes from the reservation room. This is in the passenger agent's room of the Union Station [1943]
  • Alfred MacMillan, Pullman porter waiting for train to start aboard the "Capitol Limited" bound for Chicago, Illinois
  • [1942]
  • Mr. Alfred MacMillan, Pullman porter, going to answer a call aboard the "Capitol Limited" bound for Chicago, Illinois [1942]
  • Chicago, Illinois. Pullman porter at the Union Station [1943]

Library of Congress Images – Modern Trains

  • The Amtrak Acela High-speed train doing a test run through New England before it is put in service [1980]
  • The Amtrak Acela High-speed train doing a test run through New England before it is put in service [1980]
  • Testing of the Amtrak Acela high-speed train in Pueblo, Colorado, before it was put into service on the East Coast [1980]
  • Amtrak employees show off their new uniforms in front of the brand new Acela Train that was put in service in the year 2000. Washington, D.C. [1980]

Library of Congress Images – Flight Attendants (Extension Sources)

  • Stewardess making up bunk aboard American airliner. San Francisco, California [1941]
  • Stewardess aboard American airliner, making up an "upper" bunk. San Francisco, California [1941]
  • Stewardess serving dinner aboard an American airliner enroute from Washington to Los Angeles [1941]
  • Peaches, three of a kind. Washington, D.C., July 11. Mrs. E.C. Gathings, wife of the congressman from Arkansas today received a basket of peaches via American Airlines, to be presented to the President tomorrow. The peaches commemorate the annual Peach Festival to be held in Forest City, Ark., July 27th. Next--peaches- -left to right, Mrs. E.C. Gathings and stewardess Doris Fontaine [1939]
  • [Airplane interior] [1936]
  • National Aeronautic Association of the United States of America. Plane interior to cockpit [ca. 1920-1950]
  • All the comfort of a Pullman car: the saloon of a Handley-Page [airplane] [1920]
  • Passengers boarding a plane. Washington, D.C. municipal airport [1941]