Ken Burns Classroom

If Horatio Drove Today

Ken Burns Film: Horatio’s Drive

Collections: Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

Subject: Mathematics Social Studies

Grade Level: 7-12

Run Time: 1 class period


Students will analyze and calculate the historic and present day expenses associated with Horatio’s road trip.

Activity I

Have students brainstorm a list of expenses a car owner is likely to incur, e.g., the cost of a new or used automobile, gas, repairs, insurance, accessories, etc., citing an estimated dollar amount for each. Have them research (this can include surveying friends, parents, teachers) current average car ownership expenses. How much does a car owner spend each year on a vehicle? Who is most likely to own a car, given the annual expenses? Do these expenses increase each year? Are these expenses congruent with average wages?

Referring to Horatio’s Drive, ask students to consider the costs of a car in the early 20th century, when the automobile was slowly being introduced in America. Why were cars so expensive? Who could afford one? What might have been the average annual cost of owning an automobile back then, especially in light of the automobile’s technological novelty?

Divide students into small groups, each representing a decade of automobile development and usage over the last century (1900-2000). Have each group research and chart—within its designated timeframe— expenses for the categories noted above and others students have identified. Instruct groups to calculate rate changes from year-to-year, with a cumulative expense calculation over the decade, and a prediction of expense rates in the following decade (students looking at 1900-1910 would predict costs for 1910-1920). Invite each group to share its findings, noting its final 10-year prediction. As the groups present their findings in chronological order, compare one groups predicted data with the following group’s actual findings. What do these rates indicate about the cost of a car over time? What are the factors that influence changing costs? Has car ownership become more or less financially accessible over the years? Explain.

Have students calculate an estimated total cost of Horatio’s actual car-related expenses during his road trip, and then calculate the costs Horatio might have incurred had he taken his road trip in this part of the 21st century (based on their findings in the preceding step). Would it be more or less expensive for Horatio to travel now?

Activity II

Invite students to brainstorm the modern-day expenses (other than automobile-related) a traveler might incur on a road trip, for example lodging, food, souvenirs, postcards, etc. They can also reflect on a trip they have taken to come up with an estimated total cost of these expenses. As in Activity I, students can research the cost of these items over the last century or estimate/research the value of these good in the early 20th century.

Referring to Horatio’s Drive and related materials, have students list all of the travel-related goods and services Horatio used and identify actual costs and/or average expenses of these items during that time period. On first glance, how different are the prices compared to today’s? Was it cheaper to use these good and services back then? Are the present day values of expenses Horatio incurred reasonable for present day trips?

Instruct students to find the respective present day present day values of these items and calculate the percent increase for each. Are there any trends? Are there some items that stand out as having greater or lesser amounts of increase? Have students can discuss these questions and write-up their summary analysis of the data. Decide what should be best conversion factor(s) to adjust the costs of Horatio on his trip.

Extended Activities

Students can:

  • Using information found on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site (, calculate percent differences of Consumer Price Index goods and services in the early 20th century and 2003, explaining changes over time and determining whether these items are more expensive or cheaper, relevant to the time and actual wages.
  • Create a budget for a real or imagined road trip.
  • Examine the past and current standard of living costs in each of the cities Horatio visited.
  • Chart the cost of gasoline during the last century, indicating the factors that influence price indexing.
  • Compare the cost of car travel with other forms of transportation.


San Francisco, Evangeline Adams, “Some Facts About the Cost of Living in San Francisco”

Chicago, Chicago Public Library

New York, Cornell University
Wage-earners’ budgets; a study of standards and cost of living in New York … More,
Louise Bolard. H. Holt and Co., New York : 1907.

Slope & Graphing
PBS Mathline – Bottles and Divers
Students calculate the rate of change between two points on a curve by determining the slope of the line joining those two points.
Subject: Math
Grade Level: High
Topic: Numbers & Operations, Geometry
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
PBS Winter Games Cyberschool – There’s Gotta Be An Angle
Students measure angles on a downhill ski slope, and use percentages and ratios to manipulate the formula for speed.
Subject: Math
Grade Level: Middle
Topic: Measurement, Numbers & Operations, Geometry
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Harriman Expedition – How Has Transportation Changed Since the 1899 Harriman Expedition?
This lesson plan is used to introduce a unit on transportation and how it has changed from 1899 to 2001.
Subject: Math, Science & Technology, Social Studies
Grade Level: K-2
Topic: Estimating & Graphing, United States History, Geography, Transportation
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
NOVA – What’s Up With The Weather? Temperature Trends
Study global warming by graphing and comparing temperature data from different time periods.
Subject: Math, Science & Technology
Grade Level: Middle
Topic: Heat, Ecology, Data Analysis, Weather
Resource Type: Lesson Plan

Costs of Travel
Gold Rush – Teacher’s Guide
Follow the path of the 49ers as they traveled west to strike it rich. Classroom activities include geography, writing, economics, and more.
Subject: Social Studies
Grade Level: 3-5, Middle
Topic: U. S. History: Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny, Economics, Geography
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Great Lodges – You Be The Tour Guide
Students will research the natural features, wildlife, and
geography of southern Utah and northern Arizona, draw a regional map, and design a travel brochure to advertise the motor coach Loop Tour of the region.
Subject: Arts & Literature, Social Studies
Grade Level: 3-5, Middle
Topic: Measurement, Writing Skills, Geography, Writing
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Springboard – The Changing Face of the Automobile
Test automobile aerodynamics and the impact of shape on distance traveled; figure the financial and environmental impacts of fuel efficient vehicles.
Subject: Math, Science & Technology
Grade Level: Middle
Topic: Ecology, Data Analysis, Numbers & Operations, Design & Invention, Transportation
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
To fly non-stop around the world in a balloon was one of aviation’s last great challenges – a challenge that was finally met on March 20, 1999 by Bertran Piccard of Switzerland and Brian Jones of Britain. On this site, you can delve into the history of science and ballooning, follow the attempts of earlier balloonists to make the round-the-world flight, and more.
Teacher’s Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning
“Streamliners: America’s Lost Trains” offers insights into American history topics including transportation, technology, government regulation, geography, engineering and industrial design. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.
In the 1800s trains were an important transportation system in the United States. As automobile and airplanes became more sophisticated and available, traveling by train dropped in popularity. However, in Europe and Japan, train travel remains one of the most important and popular means of transportation
Los Angeles to Tokyo in just over four hours? What will the next generation of supersonic jets look like? When will they take to the skies? Explore the future of air travel with diagrams, animation and text — and find out what keeps today’s Concorde aloft.

American Experience – The Donner Party
Using archival photographs, paintings, and maps, students will examine how the Donner Party’s story struck down the myth of frontier idealism as well as examine the natural forces and flawed decisions that contributed to the tragedy.
Subject: Arts & Literature, Social Studies
Grade Level: High, Middle
Topic: United States History: Westward Expansion & Manifest Destiny, Visual Arts, Geography
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
First Measured Century – The Demise of the Great American Frontier
Introduce students to Frederick Jackson Turner, read his famous essay, and explore how early Census data, when combined visually with maps, effectively demonstrated the end of the frontier.
Subject: Arts & Literature, Math, Social Studies
Grade Level: High, Middle
Topic: American Literature, United States History: Westward Expansion & Manifest Destiny, Data Analysis, Geography
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
First Measured Century – Writing a Play about Immigrant Life in America around 1910 Learn about the settlement house movement, Hull House Maps and Papers, and also the Israel Zangwill hit play, “The Melting Pot”, which forms the foundation for students’ original one-act plays.
Subject: Arts & Literature, Social Studies
Grade Level: High, Middle
Topic: United States History: Industrialization & Immigration, Theater & Dance, Writing
Skills, United States History: 1900 ­ Great Depression
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Lewis And Clark – Lesson 3: Mapping and Cartography
Practice cartography skills, using archival and original maps.
Subject: Social Studies
Grade Level: Middle
Topic: United States History: Westward Expansion & Manifest Destiny, Geography
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Warrior in Two Worlds ­ Multiculturalism
Students look at why is it valuable to preserve and celebrate cultural identities by finding information about one of the Native American groups in your area by visiting one of the Web links to interactive maps of the United States.
Subject: Social Studies
Grade Level: 3-5, High, Middle
Topic: Archaeology & Anthropology, Geography, U. S. History: Native Americans
Resource Type: Lesson Plan


The activities in this lesson correlate to the following national standards from NCTM:

Number and Operations

  • Understand and use ratios and proportions to represent quantitative relationships.


  • Represent, analyze, and generalize a variety of patterns with tables, graphs, words,
    and, when possible, symbolic rules
  • Model and solve contextualized problems using various representations, such as graphs, tables, and equations.


  • Solve simple problems involving rates and derived measurements for such attributes as velocity.

Data Analysis and Probability

  • Formulate questions


  • Communicate mathematical thinking coherently and clearly to peers, teachers, and others.
  • Analyze and evaluate the mathematical thinking and strategies of others.


  • Recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics.

About The Authors

Steve Crandall

Author Steve Crandall has taught secondary mathematics and science since 1979. An amateur entomologist and astronomer, he has presented lessons at state/national conferences for math, science, and middle school.