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[Detail] Railway train - Italy, 1894

Collection Overview

World's Transportation Commission contains images by American photographer William Henry Jackson. Jackson, along with a railroad publicist, railroad engineer, and graphic designer, was hired to document types of transportation around the globe from 1894-1896. In addition to railroads, elephants, camels, horses, sedan chairs, and other types of transportation, the collection shows cities, street, landscapes, and inhabitants of North Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Special Features

There are currently no special features for this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
  • Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection

The members of the World's Transportation Commission were charged with documenting transportation systems around the globe. However, their attitudes and beliefs about different cultures may be conveyed in the subject matter or the words used in captions.

For help with place searches, go to Select A Country from the Trip Itinerary which lists locations represented by the photographs.

For help with search words, go to the Around the World in the 1890s Subject Index.

For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.


U.S. History

The images of photographer William Henry Jackson in this archive document the around-the-world tour of 1894-1896 of the World's Transportation Commission. One purpose of the tour was to collect information about various transportation systems -- particularly railroads -- for the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago. For this reason, the majority of Jackson's photographs focus on railroads and other forms of transportation. The Commission's second objective was to investigate the prospects of opening up new markets abroad for American goods and services. Images of people going about their everyday lives, various forms of economic activity, scenic views, and popular tourist sites record the Americans' impressions of the countries visited.

1) Transportation Systems

Images in Around the World in the 1890s focus on three general categories of transportation systems: wheeled vehicles, water-going vessels, and non-wheel conveyances. Many of the images, however, are related to railroad transportation.

To view examples of trains, search on locomotives, passenger cars, railroads, street cars, and section cars. search on railway stations for photographs such as Railway Station, taken in 1895.

Search on railroad tunnels, railroad bridges, canyons, gorges, and mountains to see trains in dramatic landscape settings.

In addition to trains, the photographs show several other types of wheeled vehicles. search on carriages and coaches, jinricksha, and carts to view these images.

Images of water-going vessels reflect the Commission's interest in the variety and economic importance of these transportation systems. For examples of specific kinds of boats and ships, search on junk, sampan, dhow, steamer, raft, riverboat, and canoe. To see photographs of ships designed for a particular purpose, search on cargo ship, fishing boat, sailing boat, and houseboat. To examine the building and commercial centers that developed in response to water transportation, search on piers and wharves, harbors, and canals.

A few unusual photographs show conveyances without wheels. search on sleds and sedan chairs to view examples of these.

search also on terms for workers who provided the energy for moving people and goods: porters, guides, and bearers.

2) Economic Activity

Joseph Pangborn, who organized the Commission, charged the group with gathering information about the countries on the tour, with particular emphasis on economic activity. For this reason, the collection includes images of people at work in factories, on plantations, at ports, and in markets.

To view photographs of people at work, search on laborers, railroad employees, cargo loaders, vendors, sailors, tea pickers, merchants, and markets.

For other evidence of economic activity, search on tea plantations, rice paddies, and factories.

3) Urban Environments and Rural Landscapes

Around the World in the 1890s includes many photographs that highlight city life. Urban Canal Jammed with Sampans emphasizes crowded conditions and activity everywhere, even on the water.

For other aspects of bustling urban life, search on street scenes, street markets, and crowds.

Also featured are dramatic images of the countryside, many focusing on geographical features. To see these photographs, search on natural features by name: mountains, gorges, rifts, and canyons. search on tunnels and bridges for images of man-made structures in landscapes. search also on city names, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Vladivostok, and Wonsan for panoramic views of cities located on natural harbors.

4) Native Cultures

Many of the photographs taken by Jackson show people going about their everyday lives and convey aspects of different cultures. For example, the photograph, Men with Mound of Food, shows a variety of native foods. How might have the members of the World's Transportation Commission reacted to cultural differences that they encountered?

To view this and similar images, search on food preparation and eating.

search on houses, processions, temples, and shrines for photographs of other aspects of native cultures. search also on contract laborers and women to find images of native men and women going about their daily tasks. To see photographs of ethnic groups, search on aborigines, Tamils, and Pongyis.


Critical Thinking

1) Historical Comprehension

From the end of the Civil War to the early 1900s, railroading in the United States experienced a golden age. Rail transport changed the landscape, the political scene, and the way people lived. Did the building of railroads and other transportation systems have the same effect in other countries? Students can study the details in a photograph to

  • identify effects of railroad technology on a country's physical and human environment; and
  • analyze the thesis that transportation technology creates change.

search on railroad tracks, and landforms such as mountains and rifts to identify routes in relation to geographic features. search on railroad workers and place names, such as Madras, Bombay, Sri Lanka, and Australia to study images illustrating the effects of railroads on everyday life.

2) Historical Analysis and Interpretation

A number of photographs, such as Darjeeling - Joseph Pangborn, depict members of the World's Transportation Commission in various poses and locations.

search on World's Transportation Commission and William Henry Jackson for photographs of the travelers on tour. Students can make inferences from these images to discuss what they reveal about:

  • the photographer's point of view, background, and interests;
  • the motives that these men, as American businessman, may have had for making this journey; and
  • the group's perspectives on what they observed -- their attitudes and values.

The discussion might lead students to pose a set of questions regarding the relationship between the photographs in the collection and the social, political, and economic events taking place in the United States during 1894-1896.

3) Historical Research Capabilities

These Indian Women sit in a railway coach beneath signs reading "Native females" and "Third Class." Commission members saw evidence of segregation of classes, sexes, and ethnic groups in several of the countries they visited.

Students can use images from Around the World in the 1890s to learn more about women's lives in various parts of the world during the 1890s. Photographs show how women dressed, how they lived, the kinds of work they did, and the technology that was available to them.

search on women, women in Russia, women in China, or women in India for a general overview of the subject.

search also on terms describing specific situations, such as cooking, laundering, strolling, or on occupations such as street vendor.

search wives of chief, and native women to note divisions among economic classes. Have students select a group of images and use them as the basis for a "Women's Lives: Then and Now" documentary. The documentary can address questions such as these:

  • What economic opportunities are available to women in the 1990s that were not available in the 1890s?
  • What segregation issues still exist between men and women?
  • How have women's daily lives changed?

4) Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making

Despite the economic depression that was taking place in the U.S. during the mid-1890s, American businesses were interested in developing new markets abroad for their products and services. One of the objectives of the World's Transportation Commission was to gather information about the countries visited, keeping in mind the possibility of new markets.

Students can search on cities, markets, harbors, factories, farms, and plantations to view images of various forms of economic activity in the countries visited. Challenge students to use these photographs to identify factors that Commission members would probably consider in recommending a particular place as a potential new market for American goods. Discuss which of these factors are still valid and identify new factors that are important in selecting new markets today.

5) Chronological Thinking

William Henry Jackson's professional life as a photographer took him to many different parts of the United States and the World. Using the timeline of Jackson's life, students can examine when he travelled to and documented these various locations.

There are two other collections in American Memory where photographs created by Jackson can be found. Search on William Henry Jackson in Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 or search on his name in Detroit Publishing Company to fine evidence of his work over time.


Arts & Humanities

1) Picture Postcards

As the World's Transportation Commission traveled in different countries, photographer William Henry Jackson took pictures of important tourist sites.

search on some of these popular places: Pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt, ruins of Carthage in Tunisia, emperor's palace in Peking, and the Taj Mahal in India. These images are often seen on picture postcards.

Students can search Around the World in the 1890s to identify other types of images of "picture postcard" places, such as temples, mosques, or ancient gates, and people, such as warrior, chief, beggar, and maharaja. After collecting an interesting group of photographs, students can create postcard messages that might have been written by a Commission member. The messages can describe the visitor's impressions or compare the postcard photograph with something familiar or previously seen.

2) Travel Brochure

Have students create a travel brochure describing places to see and things to do in one of the countries included in the World's Transportation Commission tour. Use the Trip Itinerary to locate a country.

For example, a brochure inviting Americans to visit Russia might include Close-Up of Bactrian Camel Caravan with an invitation to join a camel caravan and travel on ice. A brochure for India could show photographs of dining at a wealthy maharaja's home, visiting palaces, riding elephants, and touring cities such as Bombay, Hyderabad, and Calcutta. Encourage students to use photographs from the collection to illustrate their brochures and to write the text to reflect American viewpoints of that time.

3) An Anthropologist's Notebook

An anthropologist, one who studies social customs and cultures of groups of people, might find many interesting images in this collection.

search on clothing, food preparation, eating customs, homes, houses, places of work, mosques, and temples for examples of social customs and practices. search on specific names of native groups such, as Fijans, Samoans, or aborigines, to see pictures of different cultures.

For example, this Warrior, probably from the Gilbert Islands in Oceania, wears ceremonial armor and carries a 3-pronged object called a triton.

4) Literature Report

Have students select and read a book about life in one of the countries highlighted in this collection. Students can then report on what they learned about the country's culture, comparing their impressions from the book to those from photographs in the archive.

Students might choose from these books:

  • E.M. Forester, A Passage to India. Racial and religious tensions affect romance and friendship in this story set in India during the 1920s.
  • Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. (Nonfiction) The lives and experiences of three generations of Chinese women reflect the huge changes in that country between the early 1900s to the present.
  • Suzanne Fisher Staples, Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind. An 11-year-old girl seeks to find her own way within a tradition-bound family in modern-day Pakistan.
  • Elizabeth Peters, The Last Camel Died at Noon. This mystery is set in Egypt during the 1890s, complete with camel caravan.
  • Jill Ker Conway, The Road from Coorain. (Nonfiction) Conway describes her Australian childhood, which was characterized by sheep and British attitudes that ignored the native culture.
  • Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days. Here is a lighthearted adventure in which the characters cross three continents and two oceans by trains, elephants, sleds, and steamers.
  • Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar.(Nonfiction) The author describes people, places, and landscapes -- not to mention the trains themselves -- in Siberia, India, Japan, and other places in Asia.