Archive for Wednesday, December 28, 2011

100 years ago…

December 28, 2011

One of the most fascinating facets of history is that the same problems reoccur over and over again. It might come as a surprise, but Americans a century ago in 1912 were facing problems that are very similar to modern day issues.

Of course, individuals had a far more difficult life a century ago, and I’m sure none of us would like to go back to 1912. People worked longer hours, earned proportionately less money and had fewer diversions than today. Local sporting events and the movies, which had an admission price of five cents, were about all that was available — well, not exactly, because bars flourished in much of the country and Americans were downing about three times as much alcohol as they do today.

One of the reasons some were apprehensive about the future was technology. The old was quickly passing away and being replaced with new labor-saving inventions, such as electric lights, telephones, automobiles and airplanes. The first flight across the United States occurred in 1911 with many, many stops along the way. Harriet Quemoy became the first person to fly across the English Channel. Automobiles were becoming more commonplace and folks were predicting the demise of horse-drawn transportation. Railroads crossed the nation and eight or more trains stopped in Bonner Springs each day.

Worldwide, there were many who believed that new technologies could not fail. That uncompromising belief came to a sudden and tragic end in April of 1912, when the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg, sank and claimed about 1,500 lives. The ship was designed to be unsinkable. But it did sink and, suddenly, technology was no longer infallible.

Nationally, the big news was the presidential election and for the only time in modern history, there were four candidates. The incumbent president, William Howard Taft, a Republican, was opposed by his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, who created the Bull Moose Party, and Eugene V. Debs, who was a socialist. When the dust settled, Woodrow Wilson won the election. He was only the second Democrat since the Civil War to win the presidency.

As is the case today, there was considerable social unrest in the country. The emerging middle class was dissatisfied with the status quo and wanted social change. There were a variety of social issues floating around and stirring up discontent. These included women’s suffrage, prohibition and governmental control of business. In short, like today, there were many unhappy Americans. The social change was happening too rapidly for many and as is the case today, there were many longing for “the good old days.”

In general, it was a good year for Democrats and Frank Hodges won the governorship of Kansas. In those days, the term of governor was just two years and the Democratic control of the statehouse didn’t last long. A couple of years later, Arthur Capper became the governor of the state.

There were some important happenings in 1912. New Mexico and Arizona became the 47th and 48th states. Juliet Lowe founded the Girl Scouts in Savannah, Ga.

Foreign affairs really didn’t worry Americans all that much. After all, we were protected from the petty skirmishes of the world by the oceans. However, wary eyes were cast south toward Mexico, where the government was unstable and bandits crossed the border to harass Americans. Now, of course, the concerns are about violent drug cartels.

The U.S. did get involved in Central America when Nicaragua defaulted on its debts and the Army was sent in to get things under control. Troops remained there until the early 1930s. It is a little known chapter in American history.

As far as sports were concerned, the national pastime was baseball. While major league baseball was popular, local teams had even more fans. In the summer, there were nine teams in Bonner Springs, as well as teams in surrounding communities. One of the big issues was Sunday afternoon baseball games, which raised the ire of local churches.

In general, life was harder a century ago. People worked longer hours for lower wages, health care wasn’t as good and political unrest was rampant. In my opinion, there wasn’t much to like about “those good old days.” There is no doubt that I’ll take life in 2012 with its problems over life in 1912.


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