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The Lambert automobile, 1907. Image courtesy Wikipedia

CONNECTIONS: Thinking ahead

By Tuesday, Jul 23, 2019 Viewpoints

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century

One hundred and twelve years ago, in 1907, 95 percent of births in the United States took place at home. The average life expectancy was 47 years old. Forty-seven! Five leading causes of death were pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, heart disease, stroke and diarrhea. That is not a misprint—diarrhea.

Just 8 percent of the homes in the United Sates had a telephone. Only 14 percent of homes had a bathtub. Most women washed their hair just once a month using Borax or egg yolks as shampoo. Marijuana, heroin and morphine were all available over the counter at the corner drugstore.

Pharmacists claimed,Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.” 

The fashionable schoolgirl, 1907. Image courtesy Doris Farrand Fashion

The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska were not yet admitted to the Union.

The population of Las Vegas, Nevada, was 30. No one dropped a zero—30 people. Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. California was the 21st most populated state with 1.4 million people.

There were only 8,000 cars in the U.S., and only 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph. The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.

In the world of work: The average wage was 22 cents per hour. The average worker made $200–$400 per year. A competent accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year; a dentist made $2,500 per year; a veterinarian $1,500 per year; and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year. Ninety percent of doctors had no college education. Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned as “substandard.”

The cost of certain things was startling in proportion to wages. For example, a three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11, and a Charles Worth gown could cost as much as $10,000. However, sugar was 4 cents a pound, eggs were 14 cents per dozen, and coffee was 15 cents per pound.

Crossword puzzles, canned beer and iced tea did not exist. There was no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. There were no “talkies”; movies were silent. There were no commercial airlines. There was no television.

Two out of every 10 adults, 20 percent could neither read nor write. Only 6 percent of all Americans graduated from high school.

New York Financial World panics. Image courtesy Smithsonian Magazine

Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States, Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel Prize in literature and Albert Einstein was perfecting his theory of relativity.

The Immigration Act of 1907 raised the head tax [that is a tax the immigrant must pay] from $2 to $4 per immigrant. The Act also allowed the president to limit the number of Japanese immigrants. Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering the country for any reason.

The Panic of 1907 was a financial crisis of just weeks duration. It was triggered by overzealous speculation that bankrupted two brokerage houses to close. The New York Stock Exchange fell 50 percent. In turn, there was a run on the banks, which caused a liquidity crisis. Because of the sequence of events, it was also called the Bankers’ Panic or the Knickerbocker Crisis. It resolved into the Recession of ’07.

The more things change… However, one thing was markedly different: There were approximately 230 murders in the entire country in 1907.

I am grateful to the reader who sent this idea to me. He posed the question, “What may it be like in another 112 years?”

No one knows the answer, nor can anyone imagine it. There was no Internet nor cell phones. Connectivity was not a necessity; the phone was not a body part. The computer did not force us to think like it in order to navigate our new world. People did not reduce every issue, however complex, to a binary choice. In 112 years what will they be like? What will they live like? We can only speculate—fun!


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