Archive for Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Many changes in the last 100 years

January 2, 2008

As we head into a new year, I believe that it is always good to take a backwards glance to see mankind's progress. Certainly, the world is far different now than it was a century ago in 1908. In fact, if we were transported back over the years to 1908 we'd find a life that was much harder and far more austere.

Yet, in 1908 as it is in 2008, progress was the key word. This was the case in Bonner Springs which was looking toward a brighter future. The new cement plant, successful drilling for natural gas wells and the prospect of completion of the electric railroad pointed toward a financially successful 1908. The nation had survived the financial panic of 1907 as had Bonner Springs. Local banks withstood the crisis and remained opened when other institutions failed.

A century ago, America had an agriculture-based economy with small, family farms being the keystone. Industrialization was just gaining momentum and there were serious debates about the legality of labor unions and government restrictions on business.

The world was in transition in 1908 and there were many debates about the economic impact of the automobile. Probably the most significant business event of the year happened when the first Model T rolled off the assembly line in Detroit ushering in the era of the automobile.

As is the case now, the nation was gearing up for a presidential election. Popular President Theodore Roosevelt was not seeking another term and there was a major scramble by both parties to find an electable candidate. Ultimately, Republican William Howard Taft was elected president by a very comfortable margin over William Jennings Bryan. For Bryan, this was the third time he had lost his bid for the presidency. If you like trivia, who was elected to the vice presidency? No, I didn't know the answer either, however it was James T. Sherman. Taft is best known for being the heaviest man to serve as president. He weighed over 300 pounds.

What caused much discussion worldwide was the Tungusa Event. At 7:40 a.m. on June 30, 1908, a huge meteor slammed into the ground in Russia causing an explosion with the same impact as 1,000 atomic bombs the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima. There were persons who thought that the meteor was the first sign of the eminent end of the world. Now, a century later we can say with complete assurance that they were wrong.

The deadliest natural disaster was an earthquake in Messina which resulted in 100,000 fatalities.

In the United States, there were a couple of serious social issues causing debate. Probably the hottest question was that of prohibition. The movement to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages was gaining ground and facing bitter debate. The other key social issue was that of allowing women the right to vote.

The 16th and 17th amendments were ratified in 1908. Most of us groan at the mention of the 16th amendment which allowed the federal government to collect an income tax. The 17th amendment called for the direct election of U.S. Senators. Prior to that time, state legislatures appointed U.S. Senators.

When it came to entertainment, those living a century ago had few choices. There were early, silent movies, live stage productions, some recorded music, books, magazines and newspapers. Baseball was, by far, the most popular American sport. Football and basketball had a few followers, but neither game had the impact of baseball.

There were a few notable firsts in 1908. Lt. Frank Lahm became the first airplane passenger when he took a six minute flight with Wilbur Wright at the controls. It is believed that Mrs. Myron Green started the first Boy Scout Troop in the United States in Burnside, Ky. She brought the movement from England and four years later, the program was chartered by Congress. "SOS" became the international distress signal.

It seems that 1908 was a pretty good year and I firmly believe that 2008 will be an even better one. I can't help but wonder what highlights from 2008 historians will remember in 3008.


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