Classroom Activities: 

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Advertising in America: A Brief Look at Advertising During the Civil War

Lesson Overview

Overview: Students will analyze advertisements from the pre-Civil War and Civil War era in order to determine the purpose and audience targeted from the advertisements. Using prior knowledge of advertisements today, the students will compare and contrast the advertisements from 19th century to today. The students will apply their knowledge of
the Civil War to determine the function of the advertisements. The final assignment will be the students presenting their own advertisement to the class as well as a final written extension on what they learned from the experience.
Grade Level: 6-8

After completing the activity, students will be able to:

  • Analyze advertisements and determine the audience and purpose of the
  • Analyze advertisements for an understanding of life and culture in the Civil War
  • Research further advertisements from the Library of Congress website.
  • Use this knowledge to create an advertisement of the Civil War era.
  • Utilize public speaking skills by presenting advertisement to class.
  • Communicate ideas about advertising in written form.
Time Required: Five class periods of 40 minutes.
Discipline/Subject:  Social Studies/English
Topic/Subject: Advertising
Era: National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860



Illinois Learning Standards:  

Social Studies:
16.A-Apply the skills of historical analysis and interpretation.

Language Arts:
2.B-Read and interpret a variety of literary works.
3.B-Compose well-organized and coherent writing for specific purposes and 
3.C-Communicate ideas in writing to accomplish a variety of purposes.
4.B-Analyze and evaluate information acquired from various sources.
5.A-Locate, organize, and use information from various sources to answer questions, solve problems and communicate ideas. 
5.C-Students who meet the standard can apply acquired information, concepts and ideas to communicate in a variety of formats. 



Handouts: Brainstorming Worksheet (print page 9 of PDF), LOC Items, Compare Advertising from
the Civil War Era and Today Worksheet (print page 13 of PDF)
Analysis Tools: Advertising Analysis (print pages 10-12 of PDF)
PowerPoint: Available on page 2 and 3 of PDF
Other: Art Supplie
Library of Congress Items: Title:Dr. Sweetser's panacea
  Title:Howard Atheneum. Daily evening circular Boston, Wednesday evening, June 15th, 1859
  Title:The original rubber store, under Goodyear's patent. Established in 1839. C. Hayes, 26
School St. Boston (1861)



1. Introduce advertising. The teacher will pass out the Brainstorming Activity worksheet (PDF) for the   students to think about all forms of advertising including television, magazines, radios, and even the
Internet. The students will have a few minutes to write everything they know about advertising and discuss it as a class when finished.
2. Go over PowerPoint (PDF) with students showing and explaining advertisements from the Civil War era. Stop after each advertisement and have students answer the questions from the PowerPoint on the Analysis Worksheets (PDF) with the corresponding questions. This will help the students have an understanding of the culture in the Civil War era, as well as the companies, products, and consumers being targeted. The students may answer at their seat and then go over the answers as a group.
3. After learning about advertisements from the 1800s, have the students get in groups and using a teacher created Venn Diagram or other graphic organizer and the Compare Advertising from the Civil War Era worksheet, have students compare and contrast advertisements from today to the advertisements from the 1800s. The students will need to keep this graphic organizer to write their paper.
4. For one day, the students will research other advertisements from the Library of Congress. They should be encouraged to find advertisements from products that are still in existence today.
5. The teacher will instruct the students that they will make their own advertisement, using methods from the 1800s (pamphlets, newspaper ads, or flyers) but bu using a product form today's culture.
6. After the advertisements are finished, students will present them to the class, informing the students of what their audience, function, and purpose would be if seen in the 19th century.



Teacher will monitor students to make sure they are on task in both seatwork and group work. Teacher will ask and answer questions pertaining to the discussion. Teacher will analyze student answers to determine if relevant to lesson;if not, reteaching may be needed.


After all of the presentations of the advertisements, the students will need to write an extended response on the following questions; advertisements have been critical for both consumers and the industries for promoting products. Why do you think advertisements have changed so much in the past 150 years? Remember to use evidence from the times and culture in the Civil War era to our culture today to compare and contrast.

Author Credits
A. Laquet
East Prairie Middle School