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C U R R I C U L U M    M A T E R I A L S

Howard J. Romanek


Main Ideas
Examination of public transportation in the narrative portion of the article provides students with the opportunity to grapple with many important questions. What are the powers and duties of government? How successful has the United States been in meeting the challenges


Michigan Avenue

Chicago, Michigan Avenue, c. 1925

of urbanization? What will be the ideal American city and the ideal American suburb in the twenty-first century? Are there any difficulties in judging historical figures?

Connections with the Curriculum
This material is appropriate for U.S. History, civics, and urban studies classes. These activities may also be appropriate for Illinois Learning Standards 14.A.4; 14.D.5; 16.A.4a; 16.A.4b; 16.A.5b; 17.C.4a; 17.C.4b; 17.C.4C; 17.C.5b; 17.D.5.

Teaching Level
Grades 10-12

Materials for Each Student

• A copy of this article's narrative portion

• Handouts 1-5

Objectives for Each Student

• Decide the powers and duties of government.

• Decide the effectiveness of city bosses and reformers.

• Decide if contemporary moral standards apply to an earlier period of history.

• Decide if a new invention or innovation is always beneficial.

• Decide what is the ideal city or ideal suburb of the twenty-first century.


State Street at Washington
Chicago, State Street at Washington, c. 1930

The students should be given the article several days before any of these activities are done in class. Handouts 1-4 are designed for a single class period. The instructor can decide how much class time will be spent on Handout 5. Many follow-up assignments are possible for each handout.

Opening the Lesson
Give the students Handout 1, 2, 3, and 4. The students should read the background information. The questions may be discussed with the whole class. The instructor may also divide the class into groups for discussion and then later call upon the groups for their answers. The instructor may also designate a person from each group to write the specific comments made by its members. The answers would be collected at the end of class. For Handout 5, the instructor may use this as class project. The instructor can decide the organization of this project.

Developing the Lesson
If the class has been divided into groups, the instructor should move from group to group to monitor and answer questions.

Concluding the Lesson
For Handouts 1-4, the student should write the most important idea learned in class today. This should be given to the teacher as the student leaves the class. The teacher may want to use these comments as a learning activity at the beginning of the next class session. For Handout 5, the teacher could do this at the conclusion of the class project.

Extending the Lesson
Students could watch the film The Last Hurrah (1958). This film, available on VHS tape, is based on the novel written by Edwin O'Connor. The film's central character is Mayor Frank Skeffington, head of a political machine in a large Eastern city. The film would be appropriate to see after using Handout 2. Students could research the following topics:

  1. Famous city bosses and urban reformers

  2. Development of transportation in other American cities and in other cities around the world

  3. The life of Charles Tyson Yerkes

Students could interview commuters and city or suburban governmental officials. Many of the questions found in Handout 5 could be used. Students could do an oral presentation or write a report based on the interviews.

Assessing the Lesson
The teacher may assign an essay based on the article and handout(s).


Handout 1 - Governmental Powers and Duties

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Preamble to the U.S. Constitution created in 1787)

When one studies the history of transportation in the United States, one must grapple with the powers and duties of government. The federal government began building the National Road, also called the Cumberland Road, in 1811. New York's state government authorized the building of the Erie Canal in 1817. Were these governments fulfilling their proper responsibilities? Should citizens expect their government to build public transportation systems? Should the government only establish regulations for private transportation systems? Should the government not interfere at all with private transportation systems? These are the questions that the people of the United States have struggled with for decades.

What responsibilities do national, state, and local governments have to the people? What services should national, state, and local governments provide people? What private services or activities should be regulated by national, state, or local governments?

Are there any private services or activities that should not be regulated by national, state, or local governments?



Handout 2 - Bosses and Reformers

With the tremendous growth of cities in the United States in the late-nineteenth century, urban governments faced many challenges. There was a need to improve the infrastructure of the city. Water, sewer, and gas systems needed to be created or improved. People wanted better streets and transportation and better police and fire protection. Because state governments could limit the power of city governments, and because city governments were often weak due to a weak mayor and strong (but divided) council system, many city governments had difficulty meeting the demands placed upon them. Harper's Weekly noted in 1857 that New York City "had become a huge semi-barbarous metropolis... not well-governed and not ill-governed, but simply not governed at all" (Raymond A. Mohl, The New City: Urban America in the Industrial Age, 1860-1920, p.84). Out of this situation, America witnessed the rise of the city bosses and the political machines, and with their rise, the debate has never ended on how this urban phenomenon should be judged. Critics of the city bosses would agree with the Englishman, James Bryce, who declared in his book The American Commonwealth (1888), that urban government was "one of the conspicuous failures of the United States" (Mohl, p.85). Defenders of the city bosses have argued that they were the only hope for order and growth in the expanding nineteenth-century cities, and that they were the only hope for the needy living in the city. Martin Lomasney, the boss of Boston's South End, told Lincoln Steffens, the reporter whose book on urban corruption, The Shame of the City (1904), "There's got to be in every ward somebody that any bloke can come to—no matter what's he done—and get help. Help, you understand, none of your law and justice, but help" (Howard P. Chudacoff, The Evolution of Urban Society, p.161).

Man riding a bike

One major criticism of the city bosses was the corruption that came with their rule. Paul Barrett states that "what many council members asked for in the 1880s and 1890s were bribes (either money or jobs for patronage workers). Several alderman made a specialty of 'fixing' bribes for utility franchises. John Powers was probably the most famous of these men." However, George Washington Plunkitt, who worked for late-nineteenth-century New York City Tammany boss Richard Croker believed that there was "honest graft" and "dishonest graft." Plunkitt said that Tammany politicians engaged in "honest graft." They "didn't steal a dollar from the city treasury. They just see their opportunities and took them" (Mohl, p.99). An example of "honest graft" would be if an alderman knew that a street that would be getting cable-car service. Before this would be known to the public, he would buy property on that street. The value of that property would increase once cable-car service began. An example of "dishonest graft" would be city officials demanding payoffs from gamblers or prostitutes with the promise that their operations would not be shut down by the police.

How would George Washington Plunkitt describe the actions of Chicago aldermen such as John Powers? Were they involved in "honest graft" or "dishonest graft"? Explain.

Do the actions of these aldermen deserve condemnation? Some believe that this was a dark period in Chicago's history. Others have argued that there was no harm done. Although businessmen and politicians profited from their "agreements," the important thing to remember was that Chicago needed to expand its transportation system, and that was exactly what happened. Was no harm done? Who is right?

With the rise of the city bosses, the cities also witnessed fairly quickly the rise of the city reformers. Alexander B. Callow, Jr. who edited The City Boss in America: An Interpretive Reader, states: "The boss and the reformer are inseparable.... Their confrontation exposed the raw sores of urban problems, Together they solved some of those problems as each sought the advantage over the other. Together they learned from each other.... In the war of words and the thunder of campaigns, the


Handout 2 - continued

Mayor Carter Henery Harrison II

quality of urban government improved, the number of municipal services increased, and the question of how best to govern was revived. Together they helped build the city" (p. 173). Paul Barrett discusses the reformers in his narrative. He states that reformers such as Mayor Carter Henry Harrison II were part of a movement that would later be called "Progressive Reform." Urban historian Melvin Holli examines the reformers during the Progressive period and divides them into camps: structural reformers and social reformers. What divided these reformers were their responses to two questions: What is the proper role of government? and, Whose interests shall it serve? Holli argues that structural reformers believed that to serve business was the proper role of government, and that government should serve the middle and upper classes. The best way to do that was by making structural changes in city government, and by having a city government that was clean, responsible, efficient, and economical. On the other hand, Holli says that social reformers believed that to serve the people was the business of government. A clean and efficient government was not enough. City government needed to improve the quality of urban life by providing parks and public baths, and it also needed to help the poor by better regulating the services provided them (Callow, pp. 178-180).

Does the narrative portion of the article give evidence of structural reformers or social reformers during the period 1896 to 1902? Explain.

What did Chicago most need in this period—structural reformers or social reformers? Explain.

Who should a city boss fear more—structural reformers or social reformers? Explain. Many political machines and city bosses did survive the efforts of the reformers to "put them out of business." The machines were able to count on getting the majority of the citizens to keep them in power. Why did many people choose the bosses over the reformers?


Handout 3
— Charles Tyson Yerkes: Robber
Baron Or Far-sighted

Charles Tyson Yerkes
Charles Tyson Yerkes

How should Yerkes be remembered? Many years after he had left office, former Mayor Carter Harrison II wrote the following about Yerkes: "Trained in the public utility school he (Yerkes) saw a roseate future ahead for the first man who would apply eastern methods of official corruption to the crude halfway measures so far practiced by the novices in Chicago's best financial circles" (David M. Young, Chicago Transit: An Illustrated History, p. 47). Harrison also said, "He (Yerkes) was really a gallant though perverted soul that looked danger in the face unflinchingly He was the stuff great war heroes are made of; with the right moral fiber he would have been a truly superb character"(p. 53). The journalist David M. Young wrote, "Charles Tyson Yerkes was the single most influential developer of Chicago's transit system in the nineteenth century" (p. 47). He also stated, "Toward the end of the twentieth century, as the city prepared to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its Loop elevated structure, the tarnish on Yerkes' reputation started to fade as Chicagoans began to appreciate the role he had played in creating that remarkable structure" (p. 53).

What if, one day, some descendants of Charles Tyson Yerkes come to see the mayor of Chicago? They tell the mayor that they believe that there has been an injustice done to their ancestor, Charles Tyson Yerkes. They want to know why the city has never commemorated him for his major contributions to the city of Chicago. The mayor promises the descendants that he would have his top aide investigate this, and that if an injustice has been done, he would propose to the city council some commemoration for Charles Tyson Yerkes. After the group leaves, the mayor tells his top aide that he wants reasons for and against honoring Yerkes, and that he wants the aide's recommendation.

Make an oral presentation or write a report to answer the following questions:

  1. If you were the mayor's aide, what reasons would you give for honoring Yerkes?

  2. If you were the mayor's aide, what reasons would you give for not honoring Yerkes?

  3. If you were the mayor's aide, what would be your recommendation? Explain.

Is it fair to make judgments about people who are no longer living and who cannot defend themselves? Some people believe that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson should not be honored because they were slave owners. Others say that it is not fair to apply contemporary moral standards to an earlier period of history. Slavery was still an accepted institution during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Do people today have the right to judge aldermen such as John Powers or businessmen such as Charles Tyson Yerkes? Explain.

Robber Baron or Entrepreneur


Activity 4
Progress & Problems, Winners
& Losers

You will pretend that you are a resident of Chicago and the year is 1910. You were ten years old when you moved to Chicago in 1837, the year Chicago became incorporated as a city. List four changes you have witnessed in urban transportation during these past seventy-three years. Every new invention or innovation can improve the daily life of people; it also can present new challenges or problems. It also can produce winners and losers. (How many people are employed making manual typewriters today?) Some people welcome change; others are threatened by it. Is this true for each change in urban transportation that you listed?

Improvement In Daily Life           Problems            Winners           Losers






Handout 5 - The Future

At the end of the narrative portion of the article the following is stated: "But the strange formula created by Chicago's Progressive Era reformers and used around the country did not work. Instead it may have contributed to the decline of public transportation and to the triumph of the automobile."

The following headlines are a representation of many that have appeared in newspapers and magazines the last few years:

"Burbsprawl: Room To Be Free" (Eli Lehrer, Insight, November 23,1998)

"Stopping The Growth Blight Of Urban Sprawl in America" (Pietro S. Nivola, International Herald Tribune, June 4,1999)

"Sprawl, From Here To Eternity" (Jodie T. Allen, U.S. News & World Report, September 6,1999)

"Automobiles : A Thriving Species" (Philip Morrison and Kosta Tsipis, The Futurist, June-July 1999)

'The Virtues of Suburban Sprawl" (Witold Rybczynski, The Wall Street Journal, May 25,1999)

What is the ideal city? What is the ideal suburb? What is the ideal metropolitan area? Is sprawl a major problem confronting the United States as it enters the twenty-first century? Is there a major need to "reverse the decline of public transportation and the triumph of the automobile"? To answer these big questions, answers to the following questions are needed:

How much land is being consumed by sprawl every year?

Does sprawl harm or help the environment?

Is it better for people to live in a high-density or a low-density environment?

Should the government force people back to the city?

What are the advantages/disadvantages of living in a city, and what are the advantages/disadvantages of living in a suburb?

What have been the results where cities (such as Portland, Oregon) have used zoning and other measures to produce high-density living?

How many commuters take mass transit to work, and how many use the automobile?

If a city improves its mass transit system, does it attract more commuters?

Are commuters spending more time driving?

How long is the average mass transit commute to work, and how long is the average commuter driving to work?

What are major reasons why an individual prefers an automobile over mass transit? What are major reasons why an individual prefers mass transit over an automobile?

Would life be better in the United States today if the automobile had never been invented?

Should "the triumph of the automobile" be accepted, and should cities and suburbs do more to accommodate those who use the automobile?

Instead of costly new subways, train lines, or highways, what other forms of mass transit are being tried today?

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