Inventions and inventors are often a topic of interest for our family, so I was intrigued when I ran across The Year of the Horseless Carriage 1801 by Genevieve Foster. In this book Foster weaves together a narrative of early 19th century progress and invention with threads of world history that were occurring at the same time.
The “horseless carriage” in this case is essentially a stem engine on wheels — more of a precursor to the locomotive than the automobile (the device more commonly referred to as a horseless carriage). Richard Trevithick is an English engineer with plenty of ideas about how to use the steam engine to make a useful vehicle. He may have been a little ahead of his time, but his ideas paved the way for more modern locomotives. At about the same time American inventor Robert Fulton wondered what would happen if he put a steam engine in a boat, and had a bit more long term success from his endeavors.
While telling the stories of Trevithick, Fulton and others that collaborated with them, Foster also tells the stories of a few major socio-political events of the first two decades of the 19th century — including Napoleon, Lewis and Clark and the War of 1812. She also weaves Beethoven into her story — I hadn’t exactly realized he was contemporary to this time period. An interesting note here is that apparently Beethoven greatly admired Napoleon at one point and originally dedicated his 3rd symphony to him — but rescinded the dedication after it became apparent that Napoleon was turning into a cruel tyrant.
I read this book aloud to Miss M and Mr. E. They enjoyed it enough to typically ask me for more after I read a few pages. Some of the material in this book was repetitive for us since we were also reading A New Nation by Betsy Maestro at the same time. I skipped a few pages and paragraphs here and there to make sure the kids didn’t get too bored with the repetition.
Overall, we all enjoyed Foster’s very engaging narrative style. She is really telling a story with history. Because we were reading other books about the same time period as well, I might have enjoyed a book just about the inventors and inventions written in the same style a bit more — but especially for anyone looking for just a brief introduction to this time period (1801 to 1821), this book is a good choice. At only 92 pages (which include quite a few nice black and white illustrations drawn by the author), it didn’t really take us too many sittings to read this book.
I’ve checked out a few other of Foster’s books from our library, but those were a bit longer both in page length and amount of time covered — I’ll be keeping those in mind for the future when the kids are a bit older.