Individual’s Day Is Over, Says Geo. W. Perkins

This passage written by George Walbridge Perkins, then Chairman of the New York City Mayor’s Food Supply Commission, could just as easily have been written today — if not even more applicable today, considering the massive technological changes brought about by the Internet, smartphones, email, automation, and more:

We are just entering a new electrical world, where everything is done, as it were, on the instant.

Our fathers had none of the modern machinery with which social and business intercourse is now carried on. Their sons are wrestling with the problem of how to use these new methods of intercommunication and still adhere to the laws, the precedents, and the book learning of their fathers.

This is our great problem. It is a difficult, complicated problem, and is causing a struggle of titanic proportions — a struggle to throw off in a night, as it were, the precedents of an Old World for the realities of a new.

Precedent makes cowards of us all. But the educator, the scientist, and the inventor have left us no choice. We must adjust our thought and action to new conditions.

The changes of the last twenty-five years, socially, industrially, and economically, have been great, yet I believe they are infinitesimal compared to the changes that are coming.

As for the headline’s prediction that the “individual’s day is over,” that prediction did not turn out true. As my 2011 Washington Post article noted, the first 10 songs to reach #1 on the Billboard music sales chart were by eight groups and only two individuals, while as of the column’s publication, the 10 most recent #1 songs were by an almost-reversed nine individuals and only one group.

Individual’s Day Is Over, Says Geo. W. Perkins: And the Process of Curtailing His Privileges in Favor of the Community Is Still Only in Its Infancy, According to Him (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 1, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

April 7th, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Life

Hunters in Autos Exterminating Big Game

The relatively new invention of the automobile was producing unforeseen consequences for hunters. William T. Hornaday, director of the New York Zoological Park, thought that lawmakers should ban the practice:

“There is not the slightest doubt,” he said, “that if things are allowed to remain for the next three years as they have been during the last three, there will be no wild game left excepting wolves and coyotes, skunk, and weasels.” This deplorable state of things is due, according to Mr. Hornaday, to crude and ineffective game laws, which allow ridiculously liberal bag limits, open seasons which are nothing less than exterminatory, the use of automatic and pump guns, and worst of all, the automobile: swift, silent, and terrible in its efficacy as a destroying agent.

Today, New York state law says “It is illegal to take or hunt wildlife while in or on a motor vehicle,” according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. When exactly this law was passed, and whether or not it was passed shortly after this article, I couldn’t easily ascertain.

Hunters in Autos Exterminating Big Game: Unless Law Prevents Slaughter by “Sportsmen” in Motor Cars Our Wild Game Will Disappear, Says William T. Hornaday (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 1, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

April 6th, 2017 at 2:54 pm

The Funniest Things in the Current Plays

What were the most uproarious lines in theatrical productions from a century ago? Reading most of them mostly confirms my belief that people weren’t funny until the late 1970s or early 1980s.

But this line from Have a Heart by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse was at least somewhat funny, reminiscent of something Woody Allen might have written in his 1970s slapstick comedy days:

“You’re Michael Robinovitch.”

“Robin – Robin – the ‘ovitch’ is silent. In New York we never pronounce our ‘ovitches.'”

The Funniest Things in the Current Plays: Lines to be Heard Just Now in New York’s Theaters Which Have Succeeded in Getting Heartiest Laughs from Audiences (PDF)

Published Sunday, April 1, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

April 5th, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Humor,Theater

Three Stories a Year Are Enough for a Writer

When I was in late elementary school, my grandfather got me a book collection of Ring Lardner’s “You Know Me Al” comic strips, about the hijinks of a major league baseball player and his teammates. The comic strip was published in the 1920s, several years after the original fiction short stories that made the lead character famous. To be honest, I never thought the comic strip was that funny. The fact that Ring Lardner ranked Elinor Glyn (who?) above Mark Twain among humorists alive in 1917 might explain why.

Three Stories a Year Are Enough for a Writer: Ring W. Lardner, Humorist, Who Makes Fiction Out of Life for Baseball Players, Thinks Fewer and Better Short Stories Needed (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 31st, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Humor,Literature

Earliest Known Manhattan Map Made in 1639

A map of “New Amsterdam” with Dutch inscriptions was created in 1639 by cartographer Joan Vingboom. It was then hidden and forgotten about in Holland for almost 200 years. Finally the “Manatus map” had been donated to the Library of Congress, believed to be the earliest map of what is now New York City.

The names used in the map didn’t quite adhere to the Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly lyrics mapping out the city: “New York, New York, a wonderful town / The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down…”

Earliest Known Manhattan Map Made in 1639: Indian Settlements Occupied the Area That Is Now Called Brooklyn, and Even Coney Island Occupied Its Present Place (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 30th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in History

War Brings Huge Increase in United States Peanut Crop

Between 1908 and 1916, the total value of U.S. peanuts more than quadrupled. Why? Because the cotton crop had been nearly wiped out boll weevils, leaving far more land for peanuts to be planted. As a result, the price per peanut bushel had doubled or more within only a few years. The more you know.

The final sentence’s prediction that “Down in the cotton country they are saying that we are soon to see the rise of peanut barons” never quite came true, as best I can tell from quick research.

War Brings Huge Increase in United States Peanut Crop (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 29th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Business,War

The Harvard Slouch: Four Out of Every Five Harvard Freshmen Stand in a Faulty Posture, Says Boston Physician

In preparation for the imminent onset of World War I, 746 incoming Harvard students were trained in physical fitness for possible military service. A solid 25.9 percent of them failed in all four elements of good posture, while only 6.7 percent met all four elements.

This was a real thing. Apparently almost 20 percent had feet in such poor condition that it would keep them from serving in war.

Meanwhile, the article’s claim that “A Harvard entering class may be taken as typical of many thousands of American young men” is dubious at best, especially if The Social Network is any indication.

The Harvard Slouch: Four Out of Every Five Harvard Freshmen Stand in a Faulty Posture, Says Boston Physician (PDF)

From Sunday, March 18, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 28th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Life

Russia cartoon – “World: Gracious! What does this all mean?”

This cartoon from 1917 about Russia could just as easily have run today.

 

“World: Gracious! What does this all mean?” (PDF)

From Sunday, March 18, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 27th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Humor

Do We Want to Pay the Health Insurance Bill?

In 1917, the concept of health insurance was so new that it was referred to in quotes.

More than 20 state legislatures that year proposed bills to get government and taxpayers involved in health insurance, an innovative and bold idea at the time even though it’s considered commonplace now. (Even most anti-Obamacare Republicans generally want to maintain — or in some cases even increase — federal spending on such programs as Medicare, if not as much on Medicaid.) Here’s how the new ideas were described to the American public in 1917:

“Their arguments may be summarized as follows: That there is a wage loss due to sickness of six hundred millions of dollars annually; that the great majority of wage earners are living so close to the poverty line that they cannot bear this loss themselves nor can they provide against it through the present channels of protection — benefit societies, lodges, trade unions and the like; that the most important duty of society today is better to distribute this loss through compulsory sickness insurance; that the operation of compulsory sickness insurance will prevent disease and improve the health and general well-being of the nation, and that, therefore, society as a whole should help pay the insurance bill.

[All manual workers or anybody earning less than $100 per month would receive two-thirds of their wages in case of illness or accident, medical attention for the whole duration of the disability, and a $50 benefit in case of death.] The cost of all this shall be paid one-fifth by the State, two-fifths by the employers, and two-fifths by the wage earner, the latter’s contribution being deducted from his weekly pay by his employer.”

Today, disability insurance exists, but this article goes to show that health care was one of the most controversial and volatile political debates in 1917 just as it was today. Vox ran a terrific feature on why Vermont’s attempt to become the first state to institute single-payer universal health care ultimately failed to get off the ground.

Do We Want to Pay the Health Insurance Bill?: Frank F. Dresser Says Proposed Measure Would Give Country a Small Return in Bettered Health for a Tremendous Outlay (PDF)

From Sunday, March 11, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 17th, 2017 at 7:40 am

Posted in Debate,Politics

Your Pet Cat May Have to Have a License Soon

This is notable for being by far the most “clickbait” style headline the New York Times Sunday Magazine ever featured on this blog. This is perhaps the only headline yet featured that would be written word-for-word the exact same way today.

A New York state bill was debated in 1917 that would license all pet cats and kill all others in the state. (The verb used in the article is the even more horrific “destroyed.”) The reason was not due to visceral hatred of the cute kittens, but for economic purposes:

“The high cost of living is largely due to the fact that not enough foodstuff is produced by the farmers; the shortage of crop is, in turn, partly due to the ravages of insects, and the only effective check on the insects is the birds. But the birds are destroyed by the cats. Every link in this chain between the cat and the cost of food is backed up and proved by scientific demonstration and statistics and the totals all along the line are enormous.

“For example, Frank M. Chapman of the American Museum of Natural History figures that there are at least 25,000,000 cats in the United States, and the country’s annual loss in crops from the depredations of insects alone is estimated at $1,200,000,000.

The license fee for a pet cat would have been 50 cents and 25 cents for each subsequent reissue.

Shockingly, the most common argument against the bill — and in favor of cats — was not from animal lovers or PETA (which would not be founded until 1980), but “The one argument most frequently heard in behalf of the cat is that it kills rats and mice.”

Did the bill pass? While I found that in the same year of 1917 New York state began requiring dogs to be licensed, I was unable to determine whether cats were too. If anybody knows the answer, please comment below.

Your Pet Cat May Have to Have a License Soon: Otherwise It Will Be Killed as a Public Nuisance If Bill Now Before Legislature Passes — An Effort to Protect Birds and Crops (PDF)

From Sunday, March 11, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 16th, 2017 at 7:40 am

Efficiency Test of Domestic Standards for Every Housekeeper

There was a discrepancy of 60,000 more housekeeper jobs than people to fill the positions, as of 1917, because many women found the position undesirable.  Thetta Quay Franks, author of the book The Margin of Happiness: Practical Studies in Household Efficiency, came up with a series of questions for the head of the household to ask their housekeeper, to ensure the housekeeper was happy and comfortable in their employment. Among them were questions related to fair wages, vacation time, whether the female head of the household assisted with the work, whether a daily schedule of work as provided, and whether employees received different food than the family.

Today, the housekeeper isn’t nearly as common a position as it was back then. Then again, those holding the position can still exert a strong influence: just listen to the new popular podcast Missing Richard Simmons and listen to the influence of Teresa Reveles, Simmons’s housekeeper of 27 years who may or may not be abusing the fitness trainer and holding him hostage in his own home.

Efficiency Test of Domestic Standards for Every Housekeeper: Put Yourself in Place of Your Cook and Get Her Point of View, Says Mrs. Thetta Quay Franks (PDF)

From Sunday, March 11, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 15th, 2017 at 7:40 am

Posted in Life

Mystery of Authorship of Chinese Lyrics Solved

Pai Ta-shun was a successful poet, a mysterious Chinese man praised by critics and read by the masses. Turns out he was so mysterious because the works actually came from the pen of white American medical physician Frederick Peterson, author of such poetic works as The American Textbook of Legal Medicine and Toxicology.

According to this 1917 article recounting the then-recent controversy, Peterson was a student of Chinese poetry and wrote his poems according to Chinese literary tradition, using the name Pai Ta-shun as a Chinese-sounding homophone of Peterson.

His poems could actually be quite beautiful regardless of the con regarding the author’s identity. Here is his verse from The Dragon:

Ever-changing the cumulus surges above the horizon,

Black with thunder or white with the glitter of snow-capped mountains,

Rosy with dawn or with sunset, an age-long shifting pageant.

Stuff of chaos for dreams to forge into magical visions,

Ranged below it the common earth and the tiger-forces,

Behind and above it unfurled the starry deeps of the heavens.

Out of the formless clouds we shaped the deathless Dragon,

Symbol of change and sign of the infinite symbol of spirit.

In 2015, poet Michael Derrick Hudson caused national controversy when the anthology Best American Poetry published his poem that he submitted under the name Yi-Fen Chou. The anthology was unaware of the author’s true identity at first, but upon acceptance the author revealed the truth to the anthology’s editor, who published it under the Asian pseudonym regardless. As Mark Twain once quipped, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Mystery of Authorship of Chinese Lyrics Solved: Poems of Pai Ta-shun, Widely Discussed for Past Two Years, Were Written by Dr. Frederick Peterson, New York Physician (PDF)

From Sunday, March 4, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 13th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Literature

River of Doubt Now on Brazil’s Official Maps

In 1914, Theodore Roosevelt — at that point a former U.S. president — trekked upon a previously unmapped tributary of the Amazon River in Brazil. To honor his heroism, Brazil officially named the Rio Duvida (or River of Doubt) the Rio Roosevelt. Did the new name last to the present day? Yes it has.

River of Doubt Now on Brazil’s Official Maps (PDF)

From Sunday, March 4, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 12th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Adventure,Nature

Monroe Inaugurated 100 Years Ago Today

Even 100 years ago, people were writing “100 years ago” articles.

President James Monroe was inaugurated in 1817, with a presidency defined by the so-called Monroe Doctrine. 1917’s President Woodrow Wilson advocated much the same policy, referring to Monroe in a speech to the Senate:

“I am proposing, as it were, that the nations should with one accord adopt the doctrine of President Monroe as the doctrine of the world: That no nation should seek to extend its policy over any other nation or people, but that every people should be left free to determine its own policy, its own way of development, unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid, the little along with the great and powerful.

“I am proposing that all nations henceforth avoid entangling alliances which would draw them into competition of power, catch them in a net of intrigue and selfish rivalry, and disturb their own affairs with influences intruded from without.”

Wilson was arguably one of the last presidents to largely obey the Monroe Doctrine. Since then the U.S. has entangled itself in Vietnam, Iraq, and helped remove the democratically-elected leader of Iran, among numerous other foreign adventures and misadventures. We’ve seen similar foreign policy doctrines named after subsequent presidents too, such as the [George W.] Bush Doctrine stating that the U.S. had the right to launch preemptive strikes in the name of national security.

President Trump, who criticized the Iraq War once public opinion turned against it but was on record as supporting the mission at the outset, does not appear to be a big fan of the Monroe Doctrine either — but only time will tell for sure.

Monroe Inaugurated 100 Years Ago Today: President Wilson, Who Takes Oath of Office Today, Would Make Doctrine of His Predecessor of Century Ago Doctrine of World (PDF)

From Sunday, March 4, 1917

 

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 11th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Politics

Library of Congress Sends Books to Any Town

Did you know that the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. is a lending library? It remains so to this day, sending (almost) any item in their collection completely free of charge for two months at a time, so long as you live in the 50 states or Puerto Rico. Then all you have to do is return the item by FedEx or UPS. In this 1917 article on the subject, Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam explained the specifics.

“And we find that people all over the country are eager to take advantage of this service. We are constantly sending out books to borrowers sometimes as far distant as San Francisco and Cuba. During the year ended June 30, 1914, we sent out 2,030 volumes. During the year ended June 30, 1915, we sent out 2,258 volumes, and during the year ended June 30, 1916, we sent out as interlibrary loans 3,460 volumes to 393 different libraries in forty-eight States and in Canada.

“We lend music on the same condition as books. We do not, however, allow musical scores so lent to be used for public performances.”

Strangely, the number of items that the Library of Congress loans today is curiously difficult to find. Their website features a number of statistics in their annual report, but that’s not one of them. But with both the U.S. population and the library’s collection far larger than they were a century ago, the number of loans is surely much greater than the 3,460 volumes it comprised in 1916.

Library of Congress Sends Books to Any Town: If You Want a Rare Work of Reference Your Home Library Will Get It for You from the Great Washington Institution (PDF)

From Sunday, February 25, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 10th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Literature,Politics

Not Convicts, Graduates of Sing Sing University

 

New York’s notorious prison Sing Sing added a vocational training school in 1917.

“It is my hope, entirely outside of the work of this commission,” said Mr. Hubbell [Charles Bulkley Hubbell, Chairman of the Commission on New Prisons of the State of New York], “that the time is not far distant when prison extension work will be just as formally recognized as university extension work.”

Even a century later, it doesn’t seem that development has quiet happened. Those who have been arrested or incarcerated still face disproportionately more difficult job prospects upon release. (Of course, many tough-on-crime advocates would argue that’s exactly as it should be.)

Sing Sing prison still exists in New York today as a maximum security facility, though several inmates have successfully escaped, most recently in 2015 when two murder convicts broke out. Approximately 1,730 men are imprisoned there.

Not Convicts, Graduates of Sing Sing University: Plans for the New State Prison Are Based on Giving the Inmates a Useful Education That Will Fit Them for Honest Work (PDF)

From Sunday, February 25, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 9th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Education,True Crime

Have Women’s Votes Helped Make States Dry?

In February 1917, 27 states at least partially or fully banned alcohol, while 12 states allowed women to vote. Both movements were sweeping the country. So this article asked: since it was believed that women were the primary anti-alcohol demographic, how much were those two developments correlated?

The findings:

“With one exception, the seven dry States and one dry Territory in which women vote declared for women suffrage before they declared for prohibition.

Alaska adopted woman suffrage three years before it became dry; Arizona, two years before; Colorado, twenty-one years before; Idaho, nineteen years before; Montana, two years before; Oregon, two years before; Washington, four years before.

It has taken an average of thirteen years and two and two-thirds months under woman suffrage for six States and one Territory to become dry by constitutional or statutory prohibition, for one State to become partly dry by local option, and for another State to be promised dry by legislative action. On the other hand, there is Kansas, which was dry thirty-one years before women had the franchise in that State.

Overall, the correlation might have existed, but was weak at best. However, it seem to closely tie together on a federal level, as the Constitution banned alcohol nationally in January 1919 and legalized women’s suffrage nationally only a year and a half later in August 1920.

Have Women’s Votes Helped Make States Dry?: Interesting Deductions Obtained from an Analytical Study of States That Have Adopted Prohibition in Some Form or Other (PDF)

From Sunday, February 25, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 8th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Development,Politics

Is This Manuscript in Shakespeare’s Writing?

Several handwritten pages of a play had been housed in the British Museum. In 1917, Edward Maunde Thompson determined based on handwriting analysis and stylistic similarities that the pages were likely written by William Shakespeare, as a contribution to the play “Sir Thomas More” which was primarily written by Anthony Munday.

So were the pages indeed written by Shakespeare? Most subsequent analyses in the past century agree that it was. The Oxford Shakespeare compilation now includes the pages, and the Royal Shakespeare Company also recognized it as a Shakespeare work in 2005. This would make it the only surviving original manuscript in Shakespeare’s hand, as every other surviving example of Shakespeare’s work in a reprint or a folio. It’s also our only surviving example of Shakespeare in the process of writing, with words and phrases crossed out or inserted throughout.

This is all assuming, of course, that Shakespeare actually wrote most of the plays generally credited to him. In his book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, author Michael H. Hart presents the quite convincing evidence that most (if not all) of the plays were in fact written by Edward de Vere.

Is This Manuscript in Shakespeare’s Writing?: Expert Believes Pages of a Play, “Sir Thomas more,” Were Written by the Bard’s Own Hand (PDF)

From Sunday, February 25, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 7th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Literature

Portraits in Independence Hall Under Suspicion

Philadelphia’s Independence Hall used to feature 342 portraits of America’s founders and most important early contributors. Then in 1917, the Philadelphia City Council created a new body with jurisdiction over all the paintings there, giving more control to politicians rather than artists or historians. At the time of this article’s writing, the new body had already spurned more than 30 paintings for display, calling the works “spurious or otherwise unfit.”

“Somebody said it would be a fine thing to have all the signers [of the Declaration of Independence]. Great idea! And the portraits of signers poured in and were welcomed, regardless of credentials, and so on through various other groups of American worthies. Sometimes a silhouette, supposed to be that of somebody’s distinguished great-grandfather, would be the basis of a manufactured portrait labeled with that great-grandfather’s name and sent down to the hall. It would be taken in and given a place on the wall.”

My research couldn’t determine the number of paintings hanging in Independence Hall today, but it’s reasonable to assume that the number is now lower than 342.

Portraits in Independence Hall Under Suspicion: About Thirty Already Have Been Thrown out as Spurious by the Philadelphia Art Jury Which Is Investigating Them (PDF)

From Sunday, February 25, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

March 6th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Art,Politics

The Real Reasons California Went For Wilson

Less than 4,000 votes. That was the margin by which California voted for incumbent Democratic President Woodrow Wilson on Election Day 1916. If California’s 13 electoral votes had swung the other way, Republican challenger and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes would have won. And considering that U.S. involvement in World War I would begin in April 1917, who knows just how consequential California’s decision was to the fate of civilization.

The article details the reasons why California voted the way it did. Pro-Wilson reasons included his policy of American neutrality in the war unfurling on the other side of the globe. Anti-Hughes reasons included a major gaffe in which Hughes refused to meet with California’s popular Republican governor Hiram Johnson while campaigning in the state.

Ah, the days when California was a state where presidential candidates campaign for votes and not just for campaign dollars.

Also the days when California made up a mere 13 out of the then-531 Electoral College votes, or just 2.4 percent. Today it makes up 55 out of 538 Electoral College votes, or 10.2 percent of the total. Although even that is actually a lower percentage than the 12.1 percent it makes up of the U.S. population.

The Real Reasons California Went for Wilson: Western Authority Says His Mexican Policy and the Support Women Gave Him Placed the State in the Democratic Column (PDF)

From Sunday, February 18, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by Jesse

February 18th, 2017 at 9:07 am

Posted in Politics