Welcome to — the virtual side of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s New England Economic Adventure. (The other side is the Adventure facility at the Boston Fed — a gallery, theater, and learning center featuring interactive games, exhibits, and programs.) Inspired by New England’s rich history, the Adventure is designed to engage the public in understanding the phenomenon of economic growth, how it occurs, and why it is important.

The Adventure web site is the newest component of the Boston Fed’s education offerings. It embodies a renewal and strengthening of our commitment to provide cutting-edge economic education tools and programs for the public. With compelling stories from our region’s past and today’s powerful technology, we strive to bring central economic principles to life for students of all ages, not just in New England but at the full reaches of the Internet.

The Adventure web site explores the many facets of growth in detail with stories, images, fun facts, a timeline, projects, games, and activities. Everything is drawn from New England’s history, which is particularly well suited to illustrate how growth occurs. Why is the “growth” lesson important? Understanding the workings of economic growth gives us perspective for making sound personal decisions, not only about saving, spending, and investing, but also about things like education, housing, and jobs. And these decisions shape our lives and impact our well-being, both as individuals and collectively as participants in the local, national, and global economies.

At the end of the day, we hope the information and resources provided in this web site lay the foundation for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the important role understanding economics plays in our daily decision-making. We hope your interest is piqued, and that you will come invest yourself in history today!

if you’re at the Adventure web site or you visit the Adventure at the Boston Fed, you’ll learn about improvements in living standards and how these improvements have come about. Sometimes we use terms and concepts that may not be familiar to everyone, and there is a whole body of economic theory that explains the improvement in living standards. We offer here a primer on the theory, glossaries about economic growth and the investment game, information on the time value of money, and a link to a newsletter issue devoted exclusively to standard of living.

The Adventure web site currently offers activities and an online quiz.

You don’t have to visit the New England Economic Adventure at the Boston Fed to use the activities or the quiz. They’re for everyone, and they are all intended to reinforce the idea that the material standard of living has improved greatly for most Americans since 1800 or 1900, or even 1950.

The quiz may be used before, after, or both before and after a visit to the Adventure. Before, it gives students a preview of what they will be learning. After, it is a gauge of what students have learned and how their perceptions may have changed. Students may also answer the quiz by using the materials on the web site, even if they do not visit the Adventure.


Great Idea!
Colonel Albert Pope, the 19th century bicycle tycoon, used the patent system to gain an advantage over his competitors. But how does the patent system work?

Your Task: Get together with the other people in your class and come up with one idea that is a possible moneymaker and worth protecting from your competitors. Then determine if your idea meets the criteria for a U.S. patent. To learn about the criteria for design patents, visit the web site of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and click on “How to . . . ” button.

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Help Wanted
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said the American economy is “an economy of ideas.”

And an excerpt from a report issued by the Institute for Museum and Library Services noted: “The most valued employees are those who continue to learn, who are able to think for themselves, apply problem-solving skills, and adapt rapidly.”

So, here is your task: You’re hiring an employee in 1800, 1900, and 2000. Compile a list of the skills and traits you are looking for in each time period.

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Just Hit “Enter”
Back in 1980, the phrase would have sounded like random nonsense. There was no context for it. No one knew what a DVD or an e-trade was either.

A host of new words and phrases have come into everyday use since 1980. See if you can come up with ten.

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Letter from the Future
With or without a crystal ball, look ahead 50 years and try to predict what life in your community will be like. Pay particular attention to the economic aspects of everyday life. How will people be earning their living? Will the main businesses and industries be the same as they are today or will new ones have taken their place? Will most people have a higher standard of living or will they be worse off?

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Near and Far
If you’d lived in New England during the early 1800s, most of your possessions and almost all the food on your table would have been homemade, homegrown, or locally produced by people you knew. But by the end of the century, you would have been able to choose from a much wider variety of products and foodstuffs, many of which were mass-produced by other people in factories outside your local area. And today, of course, everything we use seems to come from someplace far away — not just outside New England, but outside the United States.

Try this exercise: To get an idea of how much less local our lives have become, go through your home and try to find ten consumer goods, apparel items, or foods produced within 50 miles of where you live. Not ten of each, but ten altogether. Chances are, you’ll have a tough time finding five.

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Reality Check
Are you one of those romantics who thinks it would have been fun to live “back in the day”? Well, then this exercise is for you. You don’t actually have to do these things; just think about them.

Task One: When you wake in the morning, reach under your bed and remove the chamber pot brimming with “night soil.” Grasp it in both hands, take it outside, and dump it.

Task Two: Share a crowded trolley car with dozens of other people who bathe once a week and don’t use deodorant. (Be sure to try this one on a humid summer day.)

Task Three: Spend an hour in an iron lung so that you can recall the days when people were terrified of polio.

Task Four: Take all the screens off your windows so that mosquitoes and flies can easily find their way into your house.

Task Five: If you live in the North, turn off your heat and hot water for the month of February. If you live in the South, try to make it through August without air conditioning.

Task Six: Ask your legislators to roll back the clean air laws so that we can once again see the air we breathe.

Task Seven: If you’re an older person, give up your Social Security and rely on your children to support you.

Task Eight: Kids, limit your television viewing to ABC, CBS, and NBC; and listen only to AM radio.

We could go on and on, but you get the point.

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“When Every Day Was a Bad Hair Day”
Most of us would have a tough time coping with everyday life in the 19th century — chamber pots under the bed, infrequent baths, and all that other fun stuff. Just read this excerpt and you’ll see why:

Early nineteenth century Americans lived in a world of dirt, insects and pungent smells. Farmyards were strewn with animal wastes, and farmers wore manure-spattered boots and trousers everywhere. Men’s and women’s working clothes alike were often stiff with dirt and dried sweat, and men’s shirts were often stained with yellow rivulets of tobacco juice. The location of privies was all too obvious on warm or windy days, and unemptied chamber pots advertised their presence. Wet baby “napkins,” today’s diapers, were not immediately washed but simply put by the fire to dry.

The Reshaping of Everyday Life
Jack Larkin

It’s hard to read that passage without wondering how people could have lived like that. But we shouldn’t be too smug because 200 years from now people will almost certainly wonder how we could have lived the way we do.

Your Task: Get together with the other people in your class and try to figure out:

1. What aspect(s) of 19th century life would have been the most difficult for a modern teen to handle?
2. When people look back at the early 21st century, what aspect(s) of our lives will cause them to ask, “How could people have lived like that?!”

If you have activities like these that you’d like to share with others, please let us know, and we may be able to put them on our web site. (We can’t pay you, but we will certainly give you credit.)