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This unit study includes lessons and activities based on the book The Flight of the Union by Tekla White.

In 1847 the people of Niagara Falls, New York and their neighbors in Canada wanted to build a bridge across the river that separated them. The first step was to get a line from one side to the other. Only a kite flown with great skill could do the job. Tekla White tells the story, based on real events, of young Homan Walsh and the kite he called the Union. Ralph Ramstad’s illustrations beautifully depict Homan’s history-making effort near Niagara Falls.

from The Flight of the Union summary at

This historical story provides a foundation for gobs of lessons. Learn about Canada, kites, silkworms, rainbows, the water cycle, and more with our free The Flight of the Union unit study.

Thanks to Lisa Dickinson and Celia Hartmann for preparing this The Flight of the Union Unit Study.

The Flight of the Union Unit Study Lessons

Here is a sample of the lessons found in this The Flight of the Union unit study:

History: Bridge Built Over Niagara Falls
In 1846 both an American bridge company, The International Bridge Company of United States, and a Canadian bridge company, The Suspension Bridge Company of Canada, would jointly own this first bridge built over the gorge. There were only four experts in the world who said that this feat was possible. These four men each eventually built their own bridge over the falls within a few years after the first bridge was built in 1850.

On November 9, 1847– Charles Ellet Jr., an ambitious engineer who studied suspension bridges in France, was awarded the contract to begin bridge construction at the chosen site– the narrowest part of the gorge above the Whirlpool Rapids approximately 15 miles down from the great Niagara Falls. After many Bridge Building Meetings, the experts could not decide on a method to get the first line across the gorge. Charles Ellet Jr. himself suggested the use of a rocket. Finally, Theodore G. Hulett, a future judge, suggested a kite flying contest for the young boys in town. The first boy to reach his kite to the other side would receive a cash prize of $5. The contest was held January 1848. Fifteen-year-old Homan Walsh won the contest on January 30, 1848. The next day a stronger line was attached to the kite string and later a cable made of thirty-six strands of number 10 wire. Later in life, Homan Walsh, 95 years old, living in Lincoln, Nebraska declares that his most precious memory was this exploit of his boyhood – his part in starting the first bridge over the gorge.

On January 31, 1848the Buffalo Dailey Courier published this account:

“We have this day joined the United States and Canada with a cord, half an inch in diameter, and are making preparations to extend a foot bridge across by the first of June. Our Shanties are erected and we have a large number of men at work. Everything is going ahead. Men are very busy laying out the town of Bellevue, and are making arrangements for putting up a large hotel. The situation is a beautiful one, and bids fair, in the opinion of many to surpass the town at the Falls. I will keep you advised of the progress.”

July 26, 1848 the first suspension bridge was completed.
The completed bridge was 762 feet long and 8 feet wide. The bridge was suspended 220 feet above the Niagara River. It did sway back and forth and dip under the pressures of the wind. Charles Ellet Jr. was the first to cross the bridge in his horse and carriage. He was impatient and daring, he did not wait for the safety rails to be built on the bridge. Newspapers quoted “Like a Roman Charioteer” he drove himself across the flimsy structure to the cheers of the spectators” The newspaper stated that women fainted at the sight and strong men gasped.

The following is what Ellet wrote to the bridge companies, March 13, 1848

“Dear. Sirs, I raised my first little wire cable on Saturday, and anchored it securely both in Canada and New York. Today, Monday, I tightened it up, and suspended below it an iron basket which I had caused to be prepared for this purpose…in this little machine I crossed over to Canada, exchanging salutations with friends there, and returned, again all in fifteen minutes. My little machine did not work as smoothly as I wished, but in the course of this week, I will have it so adjusted that anybody may cross in safety.”

August 1, 1848 the bridge is open to the public!

Language Arts: Writing Book Dedications
Discuss what the word dedication means (to set apart for some purpose and especially a sacred or serious purpose) then read the book dedication (from the illustrator) with your student. Has your student ever noticed that authors dedicate their books? What does this dedication say? “to every young person who has experienced the dream and thrill of building a kite and the pain of losing it”). Grab some other books off your shelf and read through the dedications with your student. The next time your student writes a story, be sure to encourage her to include a dedication page.

Arts and Crafts: Kites
Have your student design is own kite this week. Encourage him to carefully choose this material and shape of the kite. (This perhaps might best be done after the science lesson on kites.)

You can grab a copy of the entire The Flight of the Union unit study in an easy-to-print file at the end of this post.

How to Get Started with the The Flight of the Union Unit Study

Follow these simple instructions to get started with the The Flight of the Union unit study:

  1. Buy a copy of the book, The Flight of the Union, or grab one from your local library.
  2. Print the The Flight of the Union unit study.
  3. Choose the lessons you want to use with your student (a highlighter works great for this).
  4. Enjoy a week of book-based learning with your student.

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