What a Difference 100 Years Can Make

The 1911 Model T Ford

Feeling low about our economy? Take a look at how far we’ve come

  • The average life expectancy for men was 47 years.
  • Fuel for the model T Ford was sold in drug stores only.
  • Only 14 percent of homes had a bathtub.
  • Only 8 percent of homes had a telephone.
  • There were only 8,000 cars 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.
  • The average US wage in 1910 was 22 cents per hour.
  • The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
  • A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year.
  • A dentist $2,500 per year.
  • A veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year.
  • And a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
  • More than 95 percent of all births took place at home .
  • Ninety percent of all Doctors had no college education! (Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and the government as “substandard.”)
  • Sugar cost four cents a pound.
  • Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.
  • Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.
  • Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
  • Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.
  • The Five leading causes of death were:
    • Pneumonia and influenza
    • Tuberculosis
    • Diarrhea
    • Heart disease
    • Stroke
  • The American flag had 45 stars.
  • The population of Las Vegas , Nevada , was only 30!
  • Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented yet.
  • There was neither a Mother’s Day nor a Father’s Day.
  • Two out of every 10 adults couldn’t read or write and only 6% of all Americans had graduated from high school.
  • Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores. Back then pharmacists said, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health!” (Shocking?)
  • Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic help.
  • There were about 230 reported murders in the entire U.S.A.!

Try to imagine what it may be like in another 100 years.

17 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    This carticle caused me to think back, remembering what memories our parents and relatives had of that earlier time.  Was it really bad Las Vegas had only 30 people?  The average salary — for those years — was fine for the needs of the people when necessities also cost a fraction of what we see.
    No iced tea?  But homemade lemonade — I think I will take that quite easily. 

    Doctors had no medical degrees as we look at it?  Well then, when I have been to family cemeteries in Canada that go back to the 1850s when family plots were in rows that – unless a child died close to birth – that ALL my relatives lived to the least 86 years in 1870 in idyllic scenery that our crowded country does not allow.  My great aunt and uncle – married over 75 years — lived to be 104 and 102. 

    Perhaps I am prejudiced but – IN LOOKING BACK AT MY GENERATION – I think that we had it best.  We grew up in an age of manners, love of family, and always keeping close or going back to roots often.  It is the cement the holds that good society together.  Values and traditions. . . and where have they gone????

    My beliefs tell me that we must always move forward.  The past is the past so we must make the good times the times we live in.  But I do my part, but find that looking at broken families, highly educated men and women with no jobs, the world addicted to the multiplication of computer gimmicks that never end can not be seen as a better world — and my crystal ball tells me that there was truth to the wonders of “the good old days”.  . espcially if judged by well-being and contentment with life and those moments of pure unadulterated happiness that forever stays in my mind.

    Looking forward at 100 years?  We are good if we can look at tomorrow and next year with any confidence right now.  And so I will say that I live in this world of today but the wonderful warmth remaining in my heart is from the blessings in my life of the past that will be forever hard to beat.
    And I think of Sinatra singing “The Good Life” and it never fails to make me smile.


    • avatar Lila says:

      Joan, I think you are right about the average life spans. Children had a much higher death rate than they do today, and that pulled averages down; and then working conditions were more dangerous, so young men who died on the job in mines, etc. (like my Welsh relative) also pulled the average down. But having made it past childhood, and avoiding dangerous or unhealthy jobs, our family also had long lives. My Dad’s Aunt, mentioned below, lived to 99 and 9 months. My Dad’s parents and grandparents all lived into their 70s and 80s except for his German grandfather, who died of typhus.

      Maybe the long lives of the survivors reflected a Darwinian environment where one had to be pretty resistant to disease and there was not much help for those with congenital difficulties. My father’s brother was just a “sickly” newborn and died in a few days. Today, they probably would know what was wrong and be able to save him.

      • avatar Joan Larsen says:

        Hi Lila,

        As each of us has come from different backgrounds, we probably know what we had heard or saw.  Home births seemed to raise the rate of quick baby deaths.  My grandfather and my uncle (who died long before I was born) both died in the 1918 flu epidemic.  The tragedies of wars also were huge.  But for most “vacations” weren’t though of unless it was very close to home.

        But in my memory, the meals at home were filled with fresh produce, fresh meat, and McDonalds and its breed were not in the mix.  Families stayed close, doing for each other, and – this can be just “me” – but I believe that the feeling of home and the feeling of love that went along with most lives perhaps – as well as routine may have made a difference.

        I looked at that graveyard in rural Ontario, walked past the barely visible marks on 1800 tombstones.  If they got past those baby years, those people were living far longer than most of us will.  We all have different ideas of what “quality of life” means, but perhaps the quality of life — the truly important things that centered on family — made a difference.  It certainly made a difference in my own youth – just before the world seemed to tip in another direction.

        Why?  Perhaps it was because – looking back – it was “love centered” and we cared beyond anything for each other. 

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      The good old days.  They were certainly better days in many ways. Families were just that. “For better or worse” meant something in the marriage vows.  People asked themsevles if something was ethical rather than legal.  People cared about each other.  I am not “perfect” by any means. But there are things I would never do. Things that are commonplace today. It would shame my family which in my mother’s case goes back to 12th Century England in direct lineage.  I joke about it but I can from time to time hear my grandmother screeching in the cosmos that I would even consider something. So I never get beyond that point.  Traditions as you call them. Being raised right. From good stock.  I am descended from a man who opposed the king and lost his head over it so to speak. Well actually he did. But you know, he lost his head over something that mattered. His life meant something.  There is much more to life than what we think in terms of a “substantial life.” Silence is not a virtue. No matter what people think.  You are such a wonderful experience, Joan, and one of the true joys of wowOwow.

  2. avatar Manuel Da Silva says:

    Hello there,
    I was expect more wrtting from Mary Wells about her summer vacations in Europe, specially the french Riviera.
    She is a great writer and a wonderful person. 
    Hope to read her travel reports of 2011 summer.
    Manuel and Teresa    

  3. avatar Lila says:

    Interesting. My Dad was born at home in 1921. His brother was born at home in 1919 but died aged 5 days. Such was life back then.

    The family had a lot of Welsh miners. Cause of death for our first Welsh relative to die in the US was a mine cave-in. My great-grandfather who immigrated from Germany died of typhus.

    Despite the slow vehicle speed limits, my Dad’s pet dog was killed by a car, and his cousin was seriously injured by a car and never fully recovered. He once told me that was very, very common in those days (1920s-30s).

    As for the dentists – my Dad’s Aunt was an unusual person and obtained her dental license and went into practice with her husband. Later, she also became a Methodist minister. She never saw anything remarkable about it.

    Regarding the cost of various items, it is helpful to adjust the dollars for inflation.

    The average wage would be $5.08 today so we are definitely doing better on that score.
    The dentist was doing all right at $57,756 per year.
    Those eggs would be $3.23 today. I just paid $1.39 this morning. Factory farming, I guess.

    • avatar Chris Glass` says:

      Lila you are right about grocery pricing. Factory farms and irrigation do keep some food prices lower than family farming. The other side of the coin is that we know longer know exactly who produces our food.

  4. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Some media outlets do a fine job of letting us know what is wrong with our society but this article shows how much lives have been improved. Far more people are educated than in the past. The average person has the ability to go places and do things undreamed of a hundred years ago. At that time we were limited by the existing roads and where rail could take us. Babies who would have perished routinely grow into healthy adults. We have comforts such as central heat and air conditioning that not even the wealthy enjoyed. There is almost no limit to what we can buy in grocery and specialty stores. We don’t have to wait for an operator or a messenger from Western Union for important news we can access it almost instantly with a cell phone or computer. A hundred years from now I suspect that this time period might seem just as quaint as we find the horse and buggy days.

    • avatar Mary says:

      As much as I often bemoan the fact that I live literally in a horse and buggy town and that we are way too old fashioned, I cannot at times fathom leaving.  It is attractive to think of life in a warmer winter area, but I think about the fact that I can select fresh meat from the butcher who tells me exactly where he got it from, I can purchase fresh veggies in the summer straight from the farms and eggs from about as direct from a chicken as you can get.  The neighbrs know each other and high school football, basketball, and baseball are the social outlets.  The postman knows me as he knows everyone and knows that if I haven’t gotten my mail for a few days there may be something wrong and he will knock on the door.  I know that if I am away my neighbor will look out for my house and if I am home they will let me know if something is not right in the neighborhood.  My doctor knows me, he doesn’t just see me if I am sick, but he sees me in my community.  

      This time of the year when I first start feeling the chill of the Fall and dread the coming of the Winter I yearn for that warm place down south.  Then I attend our yearly Fall festival and I see our community working together and feel my heart warm to how lucky I am to have the old fashion town where we have but one newspaper a week, hear the click clack of horses hoofs on the country and town roads, see rabbits darting on the grass every morning and deer running across the roads yearround. I see my horse in the pasture and can look out at night and see the stars as clearly as if they were painted on the smog free sky and the light of the moon unobstructed.  Take my fully loaded modern automobile away and I am living the life of the early 1900’s, ( ok I have electric and some appliances but could reluctantly do without).  Just leave my little town alone. 

      Interesting, I make my iced tea from freshly picked mint that grows around my house mixed with a little lemon verbena, no sugar. I put it in glass jars and sit it in the sun at noon.  Then I set the jar in the cool stream before drinking .  Delicious.


  5. avatar Lila says:

    Hey, wait a minute! Iced tea! I was wondering about that… I have a “White House Cook Book” copyrighted in 1887. Page 410, Iced Tea: “It is now served to a considerable extent during the summer months. It is of course served without milk, and the addition of sugar serves only to destroy the finer tea flavor. It may be prepared some hours in advance, and should be made stronger than when served hot. It is bottled and placed in the ice-chest until required. Use the black or green teas, or both, mixed, as fancied.”

    So Joan could have had her iced tea after all!

  6. avatar flyonthewall says:

    Every era has its innovations as well as its challenges. It is interesting to see how today’s world is vastly different from that of 100 years ago. Is it any better? Perhaps in some ways, but we will always face problems that need to be overcome. I can’t honestly say that one era is better than another. I can say that it is interesting to look at the different eras and note the differences and what lead to change from one era to another.

  7. avatar Tulip O'Hare says:

    100 years ago…
    – Homosexuality was considered a crime in most countries (just a mental illness in an enlightened few)
    – Women in the USA could not vote and were generally considered too emotionally unstable and intellectually deficient to do so
    – Jim Crow laws were in full effect throughout the Southeast with few opponents in national politics
    – The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire happened
    – The Titanic sank

    … y’know, now isn’t really such a bad time to be alive!

  8. avatar Linda says:

    I wish the capability to upload a photo was possible. I have my Grandfather’s first spelling primer. He was born in 1899, the art work on a simple small primer is pretty incrdible compared to books school books of this time. As well as the message though the art work. Values from 100+ years ago I believe held a higher level than maybe today.

  9. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    In another hundred years we might be looking back on this era as the dark ages with advances in medicine, solar power and decent mass transportation. I hope to see more peace.