Archive for Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A century of change

March 21, 2012

Wouldn’t it be interesting if a time machine existed and we could swap places with folks who lived a long time ago?

For example, suppose I could change places with Imri Zumwalt, who was editor of The Chieftain a century ago. It would be interesting to see how we would react to very different worlds and lifestyles. I would venture to guess that neither one of us would be happy.

As far as the newspaper goes, I could adapt much better than Imri. You see, printing technology hadn’t changed that much between 1910 or 1912 and the early 1950s, when I got started learning the trade. The workhorse of the industry was the linotype — a snorting, clinging and clanking monster that turned out hot lead lines of type that provided the basis for the body of the newspaper. It was truly a unique machine that was virtually unchanged from its invention in the 1880s until the early 1970s when it became obsolete. The Chieftain printed a big front-page article when it purchased its first linotype.

The actual newspaper was printed on a big Babcock press that required the pressman to hand feed each sheet. Yes, a similar old rotary press was still in use when I started in the business.

Now, Imri would certainly be shocked by the technological changes. Now, instead of a dirty, hot linotype, newspapers are produced using computers. You don’t make up pages and drag the heavy chases to the press; now you paginate or use the computer to assemble the pages and send them electronically to the community where the press is located. Whereas the old-time, small-town newspaper editor might be covered with ink, now the modern publisher never gets close to ink.

An editor from a century ago would have a big learning curve. Come to think of it, those of us who were in the business during the transition period had to cope with a huge amount of change.

Imri, like modern publishers, faced competition. Today, the competition comes from the internet, TV, radio, direct mail and nearby newspapers. In 1912, Imri was fighting with a group of angry citizens who were threatening to start a rival newspaper. Apparently, they were unable to control the news. Well, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed — newspapers can’t make everyone happy. Sometimes printing the truth isn’t what some want to read. Yes, a rival newspaper was started, but it didn’t make it.

I would imagine he would be shocked about how the news business has changed. I doubt a century ago any would have imagined the advent of television, radio and the internet and how it would change the news business and communications in general. Certainly, TV would boggle his mind. In a time when the only way to find a sports score or learn about a news event was to wait until the morning newspaper in contrast with the modern world where you watch games live or movies in the comfort of your home.

Actually, I think he or anyone coming back after a century would be most surprised by, or maybe the word is shocked by, modern fashion. In 1912, it was shocking to see a female ankle. Now, we have girls in mini-skirts, jeans with holes in them and bikinis at the local swimming pool. Then, of course, we have teenage boys with droopy pants and wearing bill caps in the house. I doubt that a Christian Church minister and newspaper editor would understand the way young people dress now. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I always understand.

I know that many of us could not adjust to the working schedule of a century ago. Almost everyone worked six eight-hour days each week. While there was a movement to cut back to 44 hours, it would be many years before the five-day week became a reality.

Certainly Imri would be shocked by the number of women holding political office now. A century ago women couldn’t vote. Black residents had virtually no rights. Kansas, a century ago, thought of itself as a “moral oasis” because it was “bone dry” and prohibition was the law. A time traveler would be surprised to see open bars in Kansas. It would certainly be a shock since every politician a hundred years ago had signed the pledge never to let alcohol touch his lips. One politician said he lived up to the “pledge"; he used a straw when he drank beer. No doubt the fact that there are casinos in Kansas would be almost more of a revelation than he could take.

I’m sure Imri would be shocked by The Legends and probably appalled by the beautiful, glitzy Hollywood Casino. I didn’t even mention super highways, modern medicine and many other wonders. There can be little doubt that the world is far different and better than it was just a century ago.


Ronald Grover 8 years, 8 months ago


Enjoyed this column. It would be such a shock to someone that lived 100 years ago to be dumped into our world.

I always enjoyed listening to my wife's grandpa. He lived to be 94 years old. He was born in 1901. He would tell stories about what has changed in his time. It wasn't the old way with his stories that started with so many old people with, "back in my day....". He told stories of the impact of change during his life. He told about what it was like when the Wright Brothers flew a plane. He told about what changed with electricity, indoor plumbing, gas heat, air conditioning, TV, radio, cars. He was farmer, tractors and equipment; he could talk for hours about what that meant to feed his family. He was so proud that he was alive and could remember when the Wright Brothers flew and he watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon.

Changes in the last 100 years. What can we not even imagine for the next 100 years.

There you go I just gave you your inspiration for next weeks column. What is Bonner Springs and this area going to be in 2112? Put on your prediction hat and get busy. You don't have to be right but you can be as wishful as you want.

Ron Grover


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