Trader Marco Polo was one of the first Europeans to travel to China, staying away from his homeland in Italy for 24 years before returning. After he came back to Italy, Marco wrote of his travels and adventures in East Asia in his book Il Milione, sharing his tales with other Europeans. Polo changed the way Europeans saw the world by opening their eyes to the wonderful culture and people of China. Learn the story of one of the worlds most famous explorers and traders in Marco Polo: 13th-Century Italian Trader.
A German composer born in the 1700s, Ludwig van Beethoven has given the world some of the most well-known and long-lasting music of all time. From his Fr Elise to his 9th Symphony (in which a choir sings words from the poem Ode to Joy), Beethovens music is still loved, almost 200 years after his death. Amazingly, Beethoven composed music while being unable to hear almost anything from the time he was 26, a feat which makes his brilliant compositions all the more wonderful. Few musicians have had the incredible impact on music that Beethoven had. Learn the story of one of the most important musical composers of all time in Ludwig van Beethoven: Great Composer.
A painter, poet, sculptor, and more, Michelangelo was one of the most important artists that ever lived. Many of Michelangelos works are among the most famous in the world, visited by tourists from around the world every day. His painting in the Sistine Chapel in Rome has impressed and inspired people for centuries. His sculpture David is known around the globe. Learn the story of one of the most important artists of all time in Michelangelo: Renaissance Artist.
In rough frontier cabins, tidy farmhouses, and elegant townhouses, Americans in the 1800s were dedicated to living as well and as comfortably as their circumstances allowed. The American home was a sacred institution, the seat of family life where the patriarch ruled with Mother at his side as guardian of the home, and the children were raised with strict discipline and strong values. Changes in taste and fashion, improvements in technology (indoor plumbing and a host of new laborsaving devices), and social change transformed home and family life in the 1800s, as opportunities for leisure activities and commercially produced consumer goods came within reach of the average American. But the strong American tradition of the sanctity of the home, consumerism, and the importance of a happy family life has its roots in the homes of nineteenthcentury Americans.
For most of the 1800s, children were considered small, unruly adults who needed to be strictly disciplined and put to useful work as soon as they were able. The very concept of childhood itself, as a carefree, innocent time, is a result of increasing economic stability and changing family roles in the 1800s. Before child welfare laws were enacted and compulsory education enforced, children made up an important part of the industrial and agricultural workforce in 1800s America. Toys and time for games and fun may have been a luxury, but kids will be kids, and the adults that loved them made sure their lives werent all work and no play. The establishment of public schools, more humane working conditions, and expanding economic opportunities helped improve the life of Americas children in the 1800s, but they worked hard and their pleasures were simple ones.
American society in the 1800s had a rough edge to it. In a nation made up of people of diverse backgrounds and heritage, social controls needed to be strict and enforceable. The extreme economic inequality of Americas cities and the wideopen moral code of the frontier led to a culture of crime and violence that still plagues our country. During the 1800s, professional police forces were established in cities, towns, and territories across the continent. On the frontier, justice was often swift and severe, with hanging judges making their reputations as representatives of the law in a lawless land. Long prison sentences in miserable conditions were the rule for criminals, and many a prisoner might have preferred the option of a quick execution. Before the reform of the legal systemwhich is an ongoing processthere was definitely a separate law, and a separate standard of penalties, for the rich and for the poor. The evolution of a humane penal system and a fairer protection of all citizens under the law is an important contribution of 1800s America to the modern world.
Were all here because of people who met and fell in love in the past! In the 1800s, most young men and women were bound by powerful traditions of family, church, and society that limited their choices in romance and marriage. As an economic and communitybuilding institution, marriage options were traditionally controlled by the older generation. Marriages were often arranged by families, and the bride and grooms personal feelings for each other were much less important than they are today. But as in so many other ways, America was a new and more open society. Communities of people from different and diverse backgrounds were established in a new land, and young people came together in a freer, more open environment. Romantic love flourished in the America of the 1800s as it never had before, with a whole variety of courting and marriage customs, many of which we still cherish today.
While often behind the scenes and hidden from history, women in 1800s America worked side by side with men in building our nation. On the frontier, strong, capable women worked as hardor harderthan their menfolk, taming the land and raising the crops while shouldering the responsibilities of keeping house and caring for the children. The life of the farm wife in the settled parts of the country was one of sunup to sundown labor in an era with few modern conveniences. And in urban areas, workingclass women were a major part of the workforce in an industrializing economy, while middle and upperclass women influenced Americas social movements, supported charities, and helped beautify the gritty cities. In the course of the 1800s, new laborsaving technologies in the home, improved health conditions, greater economic and educational opportunities, and a growing sense of their rights helped to empower women and started the movement toward full equality with men that continues to this day.
The farmers, workers, and pioneers of America in the 1800s were nourished by a tradition of hearty, downhome cooking that is still a part of our national cuisineNew England baked beans, roast beef, turkey, corn on the cob, and pumpkin pies. With roots in the British Isles, and with important contributions from Native American food plants and cooking techniques, American food and drink quality and seasonal variety was vastly improved during the 1800s by new technologies in transportation, food storage, hygiene, and preservation, growing national and world markets, andnot leastthe delicious ethnic cuisines of new immigrant groups. Hungry for innovation, quality, and economy, Americans in the 1800s became the bestfed nation in the history of the world!
Founded on the principles of religious freedom, America in the 1800s was fertile ground for the expansion of religious movements and all kinds of experiments in spiritual matters. Americans in the 1800s took their religion very seriously. Away from the authority of established churches, the American frontier from upstate New York to the wilds of the Utah territory was a hotbed of new, radical religion based on a personal experience of salvation, direct revelation, and enthusiastic, highly emotional gatherings at camp meetings. At the forefront of the movement to abolish slavery and womens rights, idealistic men and women in the more established Protestant churches heard a new social gospel from an educated and progressive clergy. Meanwhile, large numbers of Catholic immigrants and Jews from Central and Eastern Europe established their own religious institutions in a new land. The religious history of America in the 1800s is rich and diverse and highly influential in the social and political evolution of our country.
Americas love of sports goes back a long way. Baseball, basketball, and football all came of age in America of the 1800s. While men like Abner Doubleday may not have invented these sports, they did much to popularize them as rules were officially standardized and nationallevel organizations were founded. Amateur (and, later, professional) teams sprang up in towns, factories, and schools across America and rooting for the home team built strong community bonds and stimulated (usually) friendly rivalries. From horse racing to boxing to competitive target shooting, Americans would watch, cheer for, and bet on just about any contest of strength and skill. The growing class of Americans with leisure and money to spare discovered tennis and golf and polo, and women for the first time participated in competitive sports. Long before the World Series and the Super Bowl, Americans were idolizing their favorite athletes, while they played and watched sports with enthusiasm.
With a sixday workweek, long hours on the job, and the hard labor required to keep house, leisure time was precious in the 1800s. Without recorded music, radio, movies, TV, video games, or the Internet, Americans had to make their own fun, and most of it was simple and very low techsinging around the family piano, visiting with neighbors, or picnicking in the woods. In the bigger towns and cities, theaters offered live, professional entertainment ranging from classic plays to raucous minstrel shows. In the smaller towns and rural areas, people waited anxiously for those few times a year when a traveling show or circus might come through the area. As the 1800s progressed, leisure time and economic resources increased for many Americans and a more sophisticated public demanded new and more exciting amusements. Read all about America at play in the 1800s!
Life on the American frontier of the 1800s is the stuff of American myth and legend. It was here in the wideopen spaces of the West that the rugged individualism of the American character was refined: in the strong but silent cowboy, the saloon girl with a heart of gold, and the sodbusting pioneer. Faced with the incredible challenges of taming a wilderness, wresting the territory from the Native peoples, and dealing with the hardships of pioneer life, Americans were offered one of the richest opportunities in the history of human kindthe agricultural and mineral resources of a new land. The settling of this land is the story of America, a story of violence, wasted resources, and genocide, as well as heroism, freedom, and incredible opportunity. The Wild West of the 1800s remains for Americans a land of hopes and dreams.
With the principles of democracy firmly established after the War for Independence, Americans in the 1800s took their politics very seriously. As more and more male citizens gained the right to vote, elections became very public, hotly contested, and sometimes even violent. In the cities and towns of America, politicians courted political power and influence among new immigrant communities; buying votes and stuffing ballot boxes was shockingly common. While the major national political issues of foreign policy, taxation, the abolition of slavery, and states rights took center stage in Congress, Americans split along regional and party lines that still exist in the twentyfirst century. Scandals over greed and corruption caused whole city governments to fall, but America also produced some of the greatest statesman and political leaders in its history. Former slaves, poor immigrants, and women demanded their right to vote.
America in the 1800s was a very hardworking society. Early in the century, farmers, craftsmen, and housewives worked very much the way they had for centuriesby their own physical labor and the sweat of their brow. The growing industrial economy brought millions of workerspeople leaving their farms and new immigrantsinto the factories and workshops of America, where the work was hard, the hours were long, and the pay was low. Women and children made up a large percentage of the industrial workforce, and conditions were often miserable and dangerous. Meanwhile, a small class of industrialists built vast fortunes. As the century progressed, improved technology, workers rights legislation, and the rise of trade unions helped to alleviate some of the misery of American workers, but for much of the 1800s, the lives of an average workingclass person was one of hard toil, limited opportunities, and the constant threat of poverty.
From an isolated and inwardlooking new nation clinging to the East Coast, America in the 1800s grew in size, strength, and military might. From the War of 1812 to the centurylong campaigns of conquest against Native American peoples, territorial expansion through war with Mexico to the great national tragedy that was the Civil War, American soldiers and sailors forged a tradition of pride and heroism that is part of our national heritage. Sometimes misguided, sometimes truly inspired, nineteenthcentury America produced some of the greatest military leaders and witnessed some of the bloodiest battles in our history. Behind the scenes, and often neglected in our official histories, the life of Americas citizen soldiers was a tough and brutal one. Patriotism, heroism, and human folly all combine in the story of the roots of Americas rise to the status of world military power.
Medicine developed into a science in the 1800s, but it was a long evolution from folk remedies and superstition to a modern understanding of how the human body works and how disease is spread. Throughout much of the century, the life expectancy of the average American was decades shorter than it is now. A lack of understanding of simple hygiene contributed to the early death of many women after childbirth, and children routinely died of common childhood diseases like measles. An incorrectly treated broken arm could kill a healthy young man, and pain, disfigurement, and epidemic disease was the fate of many Americans. Traditional herbal remedies were sometimes the best treatments available, while patent medicines often contained toxic substances, and medical procedures were often painful, disgusting, and ultimately useless. The dedicated scientists and medical researchers of the 1800s made a tremendous contribution to the health and happiness of Americans.
In todays world, where we routinely zip down the highway at 70 miles per hour and we can fly coasttocoast in a matter of hours, it is hard to imagine the revolution in transportation that took place in the 1800s. From a world where most people rarely traveled faster than their legs could carry them or much beyond their home towns, the 1800s witnessed an amazing and rapid development of technology, improvements in infrastructure, and a national will to conquer the vast distances of a growing country. Through the work of inventors, individual entrepreneurs, and municipalities, Americans found new opportunities for traveling conveniently from place to place within their communities, and a frontier nation was unified by rail, by road, and by a sense of national identity. This is the story of nineteenthcentury America on the move!
Few writers have had nearly the same effect on the English language as William Shakespeare. His plays and poems have been popular around the world for hundreds of years, long after Shakespeare himself had died. From Romeo & Juliet to Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote some of the most famous comedies and tragedies in history, stories both hilarious and horrible. Learn the story of one of the most important writers of all time in William Shakespeare: Great English Playwright & Poet.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the worlds best-known composers, began playing music at a very early age and became a professional musician when he was only 17. He went on to compose hundreds of pieces of musicmany of which are among the most famous in musical historyand influence composer Ludwig van Beethoven. More than 200 years after his death, Mozarts music is still among the most respected and beloved in the world. Learn the story of one of the most important composers of all time in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: World-Famous Composer.
As a child, Albert Einstein was quiet and awkward. He had trouble making friends and problems with learning in the classroom. As Albert grew up, he began to use his mind in ways he didnt learn in school, leading him to become an expert in math and science. Einsteins ideas helped change the way scientists thought of the world around us and change the course of history in the atomic age. Today, Einstein is one of historys most famous scientists, and his theories have shaped science for decades. Learn about one of the most important scientists of all time in Albert Einstein: Great Scientist.
Modern life would be very different without the ideas of brilliant Greek scholar Archimedes. From the simple lever to complicated machines, his work in mathematics, physics, engineering, and astronomy helped to shape the world we live in today. Few thinkers of any time period have had as big an impact on math and science as the genius Archimedes. Learn the story of one of the most important mathematic thinkers of all time in Archimedes: Ancient Greek Mathematician.
Captain James Cook is one of the most famous explorers of all time. His discoveries include parts of Australia, islands in the Pacific, and parts of the Hawaiian Islands. Cook sailed to distant places from Antarctica to New Zealand, making maps and collecting information as he travelled. Today, we remember Captain Cook for his major discoveries and his leadership of his crew. Learn the story of one of the most important explorers in history in Captain James Cook: British Explorer.
Charles Darwins On the Origin of Species changed the way we understand the beginnings of life on earth. Darwins ideas challenged people to think differently, to question long-held beliefs, and to explore a new field of scientific discovery. As a young man, Darwin worked to join the priesthood, but his life took a turn toward science after he joined a government mission to South America and the Pacific. Darwins work on the trip pushed him to come up with new ideas about life and nature, including his famous theory of evolution. Learn the story of one of the most important scientific thinkers of all time in Charles Darwin: British Naturalist.
Confucius was a teacher and philosopher living in fifth-century China. His ideas about the ways people should behave and treat each other are still part of Chinese culture and education, with Chinese students studying his ideas almost 2,500 years after his death. In the modern world, few philosophers are as well known or as often quoted as Confucius. Learn the story of one of the most important philosophers of all time in Confucius: Great Chinese Philosopher.