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Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

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  Benjamin Franklin
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  Men of Progress
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Unit 2: Those Inventive Americans!

Suggested Activities

Men of Progress

Era 4: Expansion and Reform
Era 6: The Development of the Industrial United States

  1. The nineteen inventors shown in this group portrait never actually met together in one room. Each posed separately for the artist, who assembled them for the first time on the canvas. Men of Progress was described as depicting "the most distinguished inventors of this country, whose improvements . . . have changed the aspect of modern society." Select one inventor and research him. Describe his invention and how it worked. How did it affect the world at the time? Is the invention still in use today? How is it used? Present your findings to the class. The class will vote on which invention was the most significant.
    [Standard 3—historical analysis and interpretation]

The following list identifies the inventors and their primary contributions in the order they appear in the portrait, starting from the left side:

Dr. William Thomas Green Morton: surgical anesthesia
James Bogardus: cast-iron construction
Samuel Colt: revolving pistol
Cyrus Hall McCormick: mechanical reaper
Joseph Saxton: coal-burning stove, hydrometer, ever-pointed pencil
Charles Goodyear: vulcanization of rubber
Peter Cooper: railway locomotive
Jordan Lawrence Mott: coal-burning cooking stove
Joseph Henry: electromagnet design
Eliphalet Nott: efficient heat conduction for stoves and steam engines
John Ericsson: armored turret warship
Frederick Sickels: steam-engine gear and steering device for ships
Samuel F. B. Morse: electric telegraph
Henry Burden: horseshoe manufacturing machine
Richard March: rotary press
Erastus Bigelow: power loom for carpets
Isaiah Jennings: threshing machine, repeating gun, friction match
Thomas Blanchard: irregular turning lathe
Elias Howe: sewing machine

Men of Progress
Christian Schussele (1824–1879)
Oil on canvas, 1862
Transfer from the National Gallery of Art; gift of Andrew W. Mellon, 1942

  1. Think about the many inventions we frequently use, like television, computers, air conditioning, and automobiles. Select one invention that interests you and research it. Who is credited with its invention? When was it invented? How has it changed since it was first invented?
    [Standard 3—historical analysis and interpretation]

Students will find a useful search engine for inventions at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Web site (

  1. Tap into your creativity and become an inventor! Work in teams to develop a list of problems in your school or classroom that need to be solved. Select one of the problems to work on, and brainstorm to come up with some possible solutions. Choose the invention that you think will solve the problem most effectively and will be the most useful to fellow students. Make a drawing of your invention, write an explanation of how it works, and decide upon a name for it. Present your invention to the rest of the class.
    [Standard 4—historical research capabilities]

For an in-depth unit on inventive thinking and producing an original invention, visit the Academy of Applied Science's Young Inventors Program How-to Guide (