Student Activity

Having Fun: The Economics of Leisure

E. C. Stearns & Company of Syracuse, New York in 1900.
Photo caption

Bicycle advertisement for E. C. Stearns & Company of Syracuse, New York in 1900.

1. Beginnings of Leisure


By 1900, there were more than 29 million people in the American workforce including men, women, and children. Americans worked an average of 59 hours per week and usually received Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. Many companies provided unpaid leave to their employees. How do you think Americans might have spent their leisure time a century ago? Use the following images to spark your imagination and use the questions below to help you examine the images.


  • Who is in the photograph?
  • What can you tell about the person or people in the photograph?
  • What is going on in the photograph?
  • Where might the photograph have been taken?

2. Inventions and Leisure


Use one or more of the resources below to begin research on the various inventions that drove leisure and entertainment growth at the turn of the century.

3. Class and Leisure


Learn about class as a part of the economics of leisure using the following resources:


A century ago, Americans had fun in different ways. In this activity, you will use the Internet to learn how Americans spent their leisure time and research some of the new forms of entertainment that they enjoyed.

With your classmates, conduct Internet research on your topic using the list of Web resources below. Create a brief report on its history and significance, its associated costs, and who might have enjoyed it a century ago. Your group will present this report to the class.

You may first want to look at the essays and timelines listed under "Leisure Overview." You can look for photographs under "Leisure Photographs."

Take notes on The Economics of Leisure worksheet your teacher has provided. Answer the questions below as you take notes.


  • Where did this leisure activity take place?
  • What is its significance?
  • Include a brief history.
  • What types of visitors engaged in this leisure activity?
  • What types of transportation enabled visitors to get to and from this location?
  • What forms of entertainment did people enjoy there?
  • What new technologies, if any, were used?
  • What did it cost to travel there and enjoy the entertainments?
  • What other observations can you make about your topic?


Each group will choose one of the following:

Web Resources

Leisure Overview

Leisure Photographs

National Parks

Seaside Resorts

Spectator Sports

Variety Shows



Music and Theater

World Fairs

4.Create a Travel Ad


Examine an actual turn-of-the-century travel ad, and create your own: