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Old Folks at Home - cover sheet music

[Detail] Old Folks at Home - sheet music

Technological Innovation

Every period of history has seen important inventions, and the years from 1820 to 1860 were no exception. The continued development of the steam engine brought major changes to transportation, both on land (railroad) and water (steamship). The telegraph, the daguerrotype (a photographic process), the sewing machine, the revolver pistol, and the passenger elevator were among the many other technologies developed during the period. Musical instruments invented between 1820 and 1860 included the mouth-organ, the accordion, the saxophone, and the transverse flute.

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1820-1860 includes a number of compositions that celebrate various inventions. For example, "The Song of Steam" extolled the power of steam.

"I blow the bellows, I forge the steel,
In all the shops of trade;
I hammer the ore, and turn the wheel,
Where my arms of strength are made,
I manage the furnace, the mill, the mint
I carry, I spin, I weave;
And all my doing I put to print,
On every Saturday eve."

From "The Song of Steam"

Identify several songs in the collection that deal with technological developments. The "Innovations and Celebrations" page of the special feature "Music Copyrighted in Federal District Courts, 1820-1860" is a good place to begin your search for such songs.

  • What common feature is shared by most of the songs written to celebrate inventions? Learn more about one of the inventions and try your hand at writing lyrics for a song celebrating that invention.
  • What types of songs (polkas, schottisches, waltzes, ballads, marches, dirges) were most often named for technological developments? What characteristics of these types of songs might make them more appropriate for this purpose than other types of songs? (Think especially about rhythm and tempo.)
  • Try to locate songs celebrating inventions from at least two other time periods in U.S. history. Can you think of any contemporary songs that celebrate (or decry) innovation?