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Bridge of Spies Freebie

Found in: social studies; 9-12

Bridge of Spies (2015) (141 minutes) is Steven SpielbergJames B. Donovan the exchange of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel for CIA U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and an American graduate student in 1962. As with other movies based on or inspired by real events, the storytellers have changed or omitted details for dramatic effect. For example, Donovan was more than just an insurance lawyer. During WWII, he worked with the OSS, the precursor to the CIA. However, the essence of the story is accurate and excitingly told. Bridge of Spies would make a good starting or culminating activity in a high school history unit on the Cold War.

The following lessons and resources provide context for events preceding and following the 1960 U-2 incident.


Anticommunism In Postwar America, 1945–1954: Witch Hunt Or Red Menace? The three 9-12 lessons in this unit cover Soviet espionage (Rosenbergs), HUAC, and Joseph McCarthy.

Communism, Espionage, And The Cold War ( PDF, 635 KB, 8 pgs.) A unit of five lessons for grades 9-12. The lessons cover HUAC, McCarthy and McCarthyism, the Venona Project and KGB files, Whittaker Chambers and the Alger Hiss case, and the Rosenbergs and atomic secrets.


The Presidential Timeline is set for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s two terms and highlights major events of the Cold War. It can be set for Truman and Kennedy through Reagan to identify other events as well.

Decipher a Coded Message From 1953-1957, the FBI failed to decipher a coded message inside a hollow nickel. Try to decipher an encrypted message.

The Cold War: A Pop-Culture Timeline Images and music of the era. It includes Duck And Cover, a 1951 Civil Defense film featuring Bert the Turtle.

Background Resources:

Rudolf Abel:

Rudolph Ivanovich Abel (Hollow Nickel Case) Describes the clues that ultimately led to Rudolf Abel.

The Spy Of Cadman Plaza Describes some of Rudolf Abel’s multiple aliases, cover stories, and activities in New York before his arrest.

Francis Gary Powers:

May Day Over Moscow: The Francis Gary Powers Story Presents highlights of Powers’ career.

James B. Donovan:

Metadiplomat: The Real-Life Story Of Bridge Of Spies Hero James B. Donovan
A biography of James Britt Donovan.

U-2 Incident (May 1, 1960):

U-2 Overflights And The Capture Of Francis Gary Powers, 1960 Describes U-2 operations over USSR from 1956-1960.

The CIA And The U-2 Program ( PDF, 9.3 MB, 272 pgs.) A 1998 redacted report.

The U-2 Program: A Russian Officer Remembers Recollections of Soviet responses to the US U-2 program during 1956-1960.

The Show Trial Of U-2 Pilot Francis Gary Powers Text and images.

The U-2 Spy Plane Incident Primary and secondary sources.

Treaty on Open Skies: Article-by-Article Analysis President Eisenhower proposed the first "Open Skies" initiative in 1955, before reconnaissance satellites were available, to allow each side to examine some military facilities. Nikita Krushchev rejected Eisenhower's proposal. It was finally adopted in 2002 and has 34 member states.

Four Power Summit (May 16, 1960):

Loss Of Spy Plane Sabotaged 1960 Summit (12:54) A brief description of the immediate foreign policy consequences of the U2 incident. Text is included.

The Summit Conference Of 1960: An Intelligence Officer's View

Cold War:

Cold War: A Brief History  A more detailed and illustrated account.

The Cold War Museum Exhibits, photo gallery, activities, trivia game

Documents Relating to American Foreign Policy Primary sources pre-1941-1991.


History Of The Cold War 30 photos.

Cold War Propaganda US and Soviet posters, photos, films, literature


The Hollow Coin (14:20) Cold War context. Coin appears about 5 minutes in.

USA vs USSR Fight! The Cold War (11:46) John Green of the Cold War.

U-2 Spy Trial. Ike Hits Powers Case Exploitation By Reds, 1960/08/18 () (4:04) Newsreel

Russia, 1960/05/05 () (:50) Newsreel

News Highlights of 1960, 1960/12/31 (5:12) Newsreel

Summit Crisis. Mr. K. In Ugly Mood Over U-2 Incident , 1960/05/16 (3:01) Newsreel

Powers Case. Ike States Policy On Spies and Open Skies, 1960/05/12 () (1:50) Newsreel


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