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Crossing On Time

found in: math; science; social studies; 6-8; 9-12

Crossing on Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, and a Journey to the New World (2019) by David Macaulay (Grades 6-12)

David Macaulay is familiar to teachers who have used his architecture-focused books in social studies, art, science, technology, and math classes. As a middle school teacher, I used Cathedral, City, Pyramid, and Castle. His latest book, Crossing on Time, is part memoir, part history, and part explanation of technology. The book’s four sections examine the development of steam engines and how they were used in mining and shipping, ship design and the engineering careers of the Gibbs brothers, the 18 month construction of the 990 foot SS United States, and the Macaulay family’s emigration aboard the ship in September 1957 to their new home in the United States. The SS United States, the fastest passenger ship ever, was in service from 1952-1969. Faster and cheaper jet air travel contributed to its retirement.

As can be anticipated from Macaulay’s previous books, Crossing on Time, a large-format book, is filled with full color, cutaway illustrations that explain how machines work and how the ship was built, provide scale, and tell the intertwined stories. Though the reading may prove difficult for students younger than grade 6, the pictures are engaging and much can be learned from them alone. Crossing on Time can support units on transportation and innovation, steam engines and turbines, transportation, shipbuilding, shipping, and post World War II Europe and European immigration to the U.S.

Here are some possible lessons and resources:


Build a Boat Students (2-7) design a watercraft that will support a given amount of weight. Students can also design and build ships and boats using Minecraft. See: How to Build a Ship in Minecraft

Converting Nautical Units Students (9-12) are introduced to nautical terms of measurement (nautical mile, fathom, cable length, knot) and practice converting units using a method known as factor label or dimensional analysis.

The Marshall Plan: Teaching with Primary Sources  (6-12) An inquiry kit that examines the Marshall Plan and United States support of Western Europe after World War II. National Standards Listed.
The Marshall Plan and the Reconstruction of Europe (224 KB, 9 pp) Students (9-12) analyze the effect of the Marshall Plan on Post World War II European Society. Maryland Standards listed.


Triumph of the Passenger Ship: Highlights from the Norman H. Morse Ocean Liner Collection, 1870-2010  This 15 part resource includes ocean liner history and evolution, deck plans, graphic arts, routes, and much more.

Learning About U.S. Immigration With The New York Times

Visualizing Two Centuries of U.S. Immigration  An animation and graphs.

David Macaulay’s Website

SS United States: Facts and Statistics

SS United States Conservancy


For a look at social and economic life in England after WW II, see Michael Foreman’s After The War Was Over (1995).


An Illustrated Journey Through Rome In this TED talk, Macaulay describes how he developed the final version of his book Rome Antics (1997).


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