I casually responded “The last one… the twentieth century.” She thought for a second and asked “Why do they call it the twentieth century? Didn’t the years start with 19?”
Thank God for Google, I thought. “Just Google it sweetheart.”
“What year were you born in?” she continued. When I told her 1949 she said “Wow, you’re old!” Thanks a lot kiddo.
One hundred years ago the average life expectancy for a man was only 47 years of age. I’ve managed to out distance that by 18 years. My own grandfather, Eli Mack, was dead at the age of 60, as was my mother.
The leading causes of death were (1) pneumonia and influenza, (2) tuberculosis, (3) diarrhea, (4) heart disease and (5) stroke.
A century ago, if you were one of the lucky 8,000 people who owned a car, you had to buy fuel for it in a drug store. There were only 144 miles of paved roads in America anyway and the speed limit was a brisk 10 miles per hour.
Just 14 percent of Americans had a bathtub. “How did they bathe?” asked Ashley. “They didn’t!”
Men rarely bathed and women weren’t much better, usually no more than once a month, depending on the availability of a nearby stream or running water. They shampooed with Borax or egg yolks.
Deodorant and tooth paste were non-existent. Wooden teeth were the order of the day.
As Ashley used my phone to Google her next question, it occurred to me that only 8 percent of Americans had access to a telephone in their homes and that was a party line, meaning they shared it with others.
The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
Ashley asked me how much money people made in those days. When I told her it was only 22 cents per hour she said “That’s more than I make!” That equated to $200-$400 per year.
A competent accountant could expect to earn a whopping $2,000 per year. Dentists generated $2,500 per year while a veterinarian could earn between $1,500 and $4,000 per year. The vet’s role was particularly critical as farm animals were the lifeblood of farming.
Mechanical engineers could generate $5,000 per year.
More than 95 percent of all births took place at home. My daughter-in-law Jessica will soon be a physician. Over 90 percent of the doctors 100 years ago had no college education at all. Instead they attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government, which labeled them as “substandard.”
Sugar, a key ingredient to making moonshine whiskey, was only four cents a pound. You could buy a dozen eggs for fourteen cents and coffee was only fifteen cents per pound.
I have to give a speech in Toronto, Canada later this year. One hundred years ago the border between Canada and the United States didn’t allow the freedom of movement allowed today.
In fact, Canada passed a law prohibiting poor people from entering their country for any reason, reminding Americans that it was our mantra on the Statute of Liberty that said… “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
An American flag had only 45 stars in 1910. Las Vegas was yet to be founded. It had a population of only 30 people. No one knew what a crossword puzzle was. Canned beer didn’t exist nor did iced tea.
Retailers had yet to dream up Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and education ruled the day. Two out of every ten adults couldn’t read or write and only six per cent of all Americans graduated from high school.
Pearlee Summers helped my mom raise me and my ten brothers and sisters. She had 17 children of her own. Our family was one of the 18 percent of American households who had at least one full-time servant or domestic help.
The murder rate had skyrocketed to 230 deaths across the country in 1910. In 2013, the top six cities’ murder rate was greater than that per city. We’ve come a long way… or have we?
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Michael Aun is a syndicated columnist and writes a weekly column for this newspaper. To contact Michael Aun, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.