Skip to content
Interpreting the Evidence

The Whirlpool, Niagara River, c. 1900

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    Western New York
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load The Whirlpool, Niagara River, c. 1900 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
View down the Niagara River gorge to the Whirlpool, where the river makes a 90º turn, circa 1900.
Historical Context
The Niagara River was formed some 12,000 years ago from water melting off glaciers. The river flows thirty-four miles from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario.  Along those thirty-four miles, the river makes a sudden large drop in elevation, called Niagara Falls.  Downriver from the falls, the river makes a 90º turn that is known as the Whirlpool.
Essential Question
How does geography impact culture and economic systems?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain the influence of this water source on New York's culture and economy.
Historical Challenges
On the right side of the photograph there appear to be poles along a path. When and why was the path created, what was it used for, and does it exist today?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Draw what the Niagara River would have looked like if the glacier had caused a 45° turn rather than a 90° turn. Do the same for a 180° turn and a 270° turn.
Math: If the Whirlpool is approximately 1,650 feet in diameter and 125 feet deep, about how much water does it hold?
Science: Research the impact that glaciers have had on various land formations in New York State and the United States. Name three major land formations.
Science: Research the flow of water through the Whirlpool. What happens to water in the Niagara River when it reaches the Whirlpool? Sometimes the water in the Whirlpool reverses direction and flows clockwise instead of counterclockwise. Why does this change occur, when did it first happen, and how frequently does it happen?