Historical Photographs of Independence: Harry S. Truman and the "Road" to the Presidency

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
Students can perform this lesson in one to two classes.
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
This will be an introductory paired learning activity. The students, working in teams, analyze the rapid rise in automobiles and the growing need for a stable road system in the United States/Missouri.
  • This will be an introductory paired learning activity. The students, working in teams, analyze the rapid rise in automobiles and the growing need for a stable road system in the United States/Missouri. The students will use the various pictures of roads and communities to show the need for roads and how the promise of better roads led to Harry S. Truman's rise in politics in the Interwar Years.
  • This lesson can be used within several different units of study: Missouri politics, Executive Branch, etc.
Rationale (why are you doing this?)


  • I believe my students will be able to judge the importance or need for better roads in Missouri.
  • Students will also be able to view the development of the automobile.
Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • The student will view various primary source photographs from the Interwar Years in Missouri and view the development of roads, bridges and urban developments.
  • The student will link the need for better roads and bridges to the campaign of Harry S. Truman for Jackson County Judge.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met


2. continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

4. economic concepts (including productivity and the market system) and principles (including the laws of supply and demand)

5. the major elements of geographical study and analysis (such as location, place, movement, regions) and their relationships to changes in society and environment

6. relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. the use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)


Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • Results of County Planning: Jackson County Missouri
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
  • Photographs #1-6 came from the book: Results of County Planning: Jackson County Missouri
  • Photographs #7-10 came from the Truman Library and Museum website (address noted on each photograph)
  • See companion lesson and photos here
Technology Required

Internet Access

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • The lesson activity should be used as a supplement or hands on activity in providing the students with a visual activity on the importance of road development in Missouri during the Interwar Years and the development of the New Deal programs.
  • The lesson begins with students examining the specific photographs of the time period: 
    • Photo #1: early photo of the Van Horn Road
    • Photo #2: photo of suburban road
    • Photo #3: photo of Jackson County highway and orchards
    • Photo #4: photo of "a street scene"
    • Photo #5: photo of "a modern community facilities"
    • Photo #6: photo of U.S. Highway No. 50
  • After examining the photographs, teacher should lead the students with a discussion concerning the following questions:
  • Compare and contrast the roads shown in the photo’s #1, 2, and 3.
  • What differences do you see in the pictures?
  • What challenges might the roads in pictures #1 and #2 present?
  • What advantages would the roads, in pictures #3 and #6, present?
  • Why would the campaign promise of better roads in Jackson County help Harry S. Truman’s bid for Jackson County Judge?
  • Compare the street scenes in the photo’s #4 and #5. What similarities and differences do you see?
  • To conclude the lesson activity, share with the students the following pictures of Harry S. Truman: 
    • Photo #7: National Old Trails Road Association (Be sure to point out Harry S. Truman’s membership as President at the top)
    • Photo #8: Harry S. Truman in front of a new Ford Model A
    • Photo #9: Truman with fellow judges at Jackson County barbeque
    • Photo #10: Harry S. Truman with a 1929 Studebaker 8 car.
  • After the students have had a chance to examine the photographs (#7-10), discuss the following:
  • How do photograph’s #7, 8, and 10 show Harry S. Truman’s lifelong love of automobiles? How might this love lead Truman into new road building legislation?
  • Analyze photograph #9. Explain to the students that the picture was held a barbeque that Truman and fellow judges after completion of first road project. Why would the judges host a barbeque for the public? What in the photograph shows the link between the judges and the road system completion? Why would the completion of the road system benefit the political career of Harry S. Truman?
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

To assess student comprehension would be relatively easy for this lesson. The assessment method would be one of participation in the lesson. I have found a good cross-curricular assessment of journal writing to be a very useful way of assessing student learning. I have the students write their responses to the lesson though questions in their journal.