Different times just a century ago
Happy New Year! It always seems amazing how quickly the years race past and how the world has changed. Just for a moment, let’s put ourselves in Bonner Springs, Edwardsville or Basehor in 1909. The world that those folks lived in was much harsher and radically different than today.
When midnight chimed a century ago ushering in 1909, the United States was looking toward a new president and administration. Republican William Howard Taft moved into the presidency, replacing his then-mentor and friend, the extremely popular Theodore Roosevelt. That friendship would breakdown in the coming years and lead to a bitter election in 1912. Taft has a distinct place in history. He is the largest president ever, tipping the scales at over 300 pounds.
If you want to surprise your friends with your knowledge of trivia: who was the vice president? The answer: John Sherman. And, if you want to really appear knowledgeable, inform them that Herbert Asquith was the prime minister of England. No, I didn’t know the answers until I did some research.
Change was moving throughout the world a century ago. In the United States and Europe, the specters of socialism and communism were rearing their ugly heads. The Ottoman Empire was crumbling in Turkey, causing concerns. Russia was in turmoil and the czar was losing his grip on the nation. The leadership in China was teetering. In short, the winds of change were blowing and causing a great deal of worry.
The United States and Japan were becoming enemies. The Japanese were concerned about rising American influence in the Pacific rim and Americans didn’t trust the leadership in Tokyo. Issues here in the United States also caused concern among the Japanese. The California General Assembly defeated a bill that would have prevented persons of Japanese ancestry from owning land. In 1909, the idea of equality for all people was a long way from reality.
The biggest news in America was work on the Panama Canal. It was a huge engineering feat and was a step toward the Americans moving into world leadership. Despite a variety of problems, the canal was completed and, even today, remains a modern marvel.
European countries were forming alliances and this would lead to tensions that would explode into war in just five years. Yet, for the most part, Americans were isolationists and depended on the oceans for protection from attacks from overseas.
Life in our communities remained much as it had for the past several decades. Telephones and electric lights were gaining greater use. Long distance telephone calls were expensive and the quickest form of communication was the telegraph. For most, I would imagine the method of choice was the mail. Rural mail delivery was still in its infancy, however. In town, there were two deliveries per day — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
National financial woes were causing changes in thinking. There was a bill introduced in the Kansas Legislature to increase the state levy by one-tenth of a mill to provide funds to guarantee bank deposits. It would be three decades and a world-wide depression to bring that idea to reality. In an attempt to secure the financial future of Americans, legislation was introduced to form postal savings banks.
Before leaving office, President Roosevelt ordered the attorney general to take action against those who had illegally blocked or damaged the banks of the Kaw River. The government also required postmasters to pass a Civil Service examination.
We live in a world of instant entertainment, however, those who walked these streets a century ago had relatively little. Motion pictures were in their infancy, and it would be years before radio and television would reform American life. The most popular sport was baseball, and even the game was different. Ty Cobb led the American League with nine home runs.
The biggest event in early 1909 in Bonner Springs was the completion of the water systems. The new utility worked well and residents were justifiably proud. Within months, however, there were complaints about the high rates. Philo Clark was mayor of Bonner Springs at the time. The city also had its own telephone and natural gas system. The inter-urban railroad was inching its way toward Bonner Springs and would soon be whisking persons to Lawrence or Kansas City.
If a resident from that long-gone era were to return, they would certainly be amazed by the modern world of TV, Internet, multi-lane highways, airplanes and much, much more. I’ll bet that it wouldn’t take long before they realized that the quality of life in the modern era was much better. Looking at all the progress in a century, I have to wonder what life will be like in 2109.