• The Shortage of Supermen

    A 1922 New York Times Magazine article posited that, compared to prior eras, there was now an “unquestionable sterility of the twentieth century in the production of very great men.”

    The anonymous author cites multiple examples from previous centuries of those who exhibited “dazzling and outstanding genius,” including (among others) William Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, Napoleon Bonaparte, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Leonardo da Vinci.

    How many men alive at this moment can with complete justice to the giants of the past be named as ranking absolutely as their equals? I am not certain that by even a generous computation as many as twelve could be named.

    The author than suggests people alive in 1922 who may possibly qualify, either because he personally believes so or because much of the public might. Most of these nominees have now been largely forgotten by the masses, including:

    • Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, who’s largely shunned today for being a Nazi sympathizer
    • U.K. Prime Minister Lloyd George. Perhaps most Brits may still know his name, but most Americans surely don’t — especially not compared to more iconic 20th century British leaders like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.
    • French poet, novelist, and journalist Anatole France 
    • Italian poet and playwright Gabriele D’Annunzio 
    • Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck
    • French general Marshal Foch
    • Norwegian novelist Johan Bojer
    • German novelist Gerhart Hauptmann

    Some of the article’s other nomination for “great men” from 1922 still remain famous (or at least semi-famous) to the general masses in 2022, including:

    • Thomas Edison
    • English writer Rudyard Kipling, best remembered for 1894’s story collection The Jungle Book. Although, to be honest, Disney’s 1967 animated film and 2016 live-action remake are both far better known among the masses today than anything Kipling himself did.
    • English novelist Thomas Hardy, best remembered for 1891’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles

    A few surprising names were not listed as towering men of true greatness from 1922. Off the top of my head:

    • The most obvious omission, by far: Albert Einstein. The man’s last name has literally becoming a synonym for “genius” in the popular vernacular.
    • Henry Ford. If Thomas Edison was nominated, why not Ford?
    • Orville Wright. (His brother Wilbur had already died by 1922.)
    • Nikola Tesla
    • Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of radio
    • Alexander Graham Bell. (Who technically died in August 1922, three and a half months before this article was originally published, but still.)
    • Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes? Last year, the website SCOTUSblog.com named him as the second-greatest Supreme Court justice of all time, behind only John Marshall.

    As far as writers and novelists, many of the most iconic men of words from the 1920s wouldn’t truly hit their stride until later in the decade after 1922, such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. Nonetheless, it seems like a few more figures from the arts could have been nominated as well.

    The Shortage of Supermen

    Published: Sunday, November 26, 1922

  • Hitler’s first NYT mention was 100 years ago this week

    On Tuesday, November 21, 1922, the New York Times printed its first profile article of Adolf Hitler. It would not be the last.

    Under the headline “New Popular Idol Rises In Bavaria,” journalist Cyril Brown reported:

    The keynote of his propaganda in speaking and writing is violent anti-Semitism. His followers are popularly nicknamed “the Hakenkreuzler.” So violent are Hitler’s fulminations against the Jews that a number of prominent Jewish citizens are reported to have sought safe asylums in the Bavarian highlands, easily reached by fast motor cars, whence they could hurry their women and children when forewarned of an anti-Semitic St. Bartholomew’s night.

    This was a reference to the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre of August 23, 1572 in France. Indeed, Hitler’s version of this event would indeed arrive on November 9, 1938: Kristallnacht, or “The Night of Broken Glass.”

    However, the article also suggested that Hitler’s rhetoric on this subject of Jewish people was just a ruse:

    But several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch messes of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.

    That “insight” was, to put it mildly, wrong.

    This website usually focuses exclusively on the New York Times Magazine section and exclusively content that was originally printed on Sundays — as per the name SundayMagazine.org. However, despite it being a Tuesday issue and a non-magazine article, surely an occurrence this monumental merits a mention.

    A hat tip to Reddit user u/michaelnoir on the subreddit r/100YearsAgo, who dug this 1922 article up. The original post can be found here.

    New Popular Idol Rises in Bavaria

    Published: Tuesday, November 21, 1922

  • The Imminent Third Party

    Shortly after Election Day 1922, President Woodrow Wilson’s former Secretary of War Lindley Miller Garrison advocated the formation of an “anti-radical” third party in a New York Times Magazine column.

    Garrison said:

    “I class myself as a liberal conservative.

    The political division which is ahead of us will take this cleavage, then: The conservatives of both parties against the radicals of both parties; and it will be safer if this is done by the above-board formation of a third party under a new name, and by scrapping one or both of the old parties, or perhaps melding them under a hyphenated name.

    Instead, something of the opposite happened.

    A third party would command 16.6% of the popular vote in the next presidential election of 1924, but it was the opposite of a “conservative” party: Robert M. La Follette, campaigning jointly under the banners of the Socialist, Progressive, and Farmer-Labor Parties. He won one state: Wisconsin, the state he represented in the U.S. Senate at the time.

    As for Garrison’s proposed third party, in the NYT column, he rejected the idea of calling it the Constitutional Party and suggested instead the Liberal Conservative Party.

    Seven decades later in 1992, a party was indeed created called the American Constitution Party. Since that time, the party has never received more than a fraction of 1% of the national popular vote for president.

    It does not appear there is, or ever has been, an American political party called the Liberal Conservative Party — at least not that I could find.

    The Imminent Third Party

    Published: Sunday, November 19, 1922

  • A Physician’s View of Prohibition

    In 1922, the physician Kurt L. Elsner, M.D. wrote a New York Times Magazine column arguing against Prohibition not from a moral or constitutional perspective, as most debates did, but from a health perspective.

    And as far as injury to health in concerned, I may state right here that I have seen more people’s health ruined by excessive smoking than by drinking or drugs. But the drunkard is noisy and boisterous and more objectionable and noticeable than the other and seems therefore larger in numbers.

    But altogether of the whole population it is probably less than 2 per cent. who are either drunkard or drug fiends, exaggerated statements to the contrary notwithstanding. The other 98 per cent. would never even feel the temptation to drink to excess or to use drugs if they were imprisoned in a whole warehouse full of morphine, whisky, wine, and cordials.

    While this may perhaps have been a controversial position at the time, by 2022 it’s incontrovertible that excessive smoking is a far bigger public health problem than excessive drinking. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), direct tobacco use kills more than 7 million people worldwide each year, more than double alcohol’s annual death rate of 3 million.

    Looking up the writer and doctor Kurt L. Elsner, turns out he was also granted a 1913 patent for a fire-escape apparatus:

    A Physician’s View of Prohibition

    Published: Sunday, November 12, 1922

  • English and American Women in Politics

    A 1922 New York Times Magazine column surmised reasons why women had earned a higher share of political seats in the U.K. than the U.S. The same discrepancy holds true today, with women comprising larger shares of Parliament than Congress.

    In 1922, women had only recently gained the right to vote in both countries: in 1918 for the U.K. and in 1920 for the U.S. So in terms of political rights, the situation was comparable. In terms of political representation, though, the U.K. had a higher female percentage.

    Why? In a column, U.S. women’s rights advocate Anne Martin speculated that it was largely because of societal differences:

    English women are showing a flair, a talent for politics that American women have not yet developed. They are forging ahead of us in the use they are making of the vote to win direct participation in government.

    It is natural that this should be so. English “culture” is different from American. Politics consciously forms part of the fibre [sic] of daily life. Men and women of the upper classes, at any rate, for generations have discussed politics on more or less equal terms, and with understanding authority.

    Martin went on to explain that, before either had won the right to vote, British women often took a much more direct role in political campaigns than did American women:

    Unlike the United States, where women and the home have until recently been almost completely separated from “politics,” in England they have for generations, though unenfranchised, taken a very active part in political campaigns. As members of their Primrose Leagues, their Conservative and Liberal clubs, they went right out into the constituencies as canvassers or organizers, and on to the stump as speakers, working for the election to their husbands and friends to Parliament.

    The two leading women’s political organizations in the United States, since the vote was won in 1920, have confined their work to welfare and equality legislation.

    Today, the U.S. versus U.K. discrepancy continues.

    In the lower chamber of the legislative branch: women comprise 27% of the U.S. House of Representatives, versus 35% in the U.K. House of Commons.

    Same discrepancy in the upper house of the legislative branch: women comprise 24% of the U.S. Senate, versus 28% in the U.K. House of Lords.

    English and American Women in Politics

    Published: Sunday, November 5, 1922

  • Berlin Is Back Again in Touristia

    World War I utterly devastated Germany. The war ended in 1918. Four years later, in 1922, the New York Times Magazine reported that tourism could finally be said to have returned to Berlin in earnest.

    Berlin has managed, after fading completely in 1919, after two hard but discouraging attempts in 1920 and 1921, to reinstate herself as a member of the Ancient and Honorable Society for Extracting American Dollars from American Tourists.

    Little by little, since those first bleak post-war months, the tourists have been dribbling back until, finally, in the season of 1922, they were to be seen in Berlin in quite respectable numbers.

    One wonders the level to which tourism will return to Ukraine after the current war there ends.

    Or perhaps, unlikely though this may seem, if tourism may even increase from pre-war levels? After all, most Americans probably gave Ukraine little thought before the late 2010s. Now, in 2022, the nation makes front-page headlines every single day. One can imagine a mass post-war American initiative to “support Ukraine” by going there in person and pumping money into the decimated local economy, instead of taking your European holiday to London or Paris or Italy or Greece.

    Berlin Is Back Again in Touristia

    Published: Sunday, October 29, 2022

  • Vodka or Ruin

    Did you know that Russia had a Prohibition Era for alcohol during some of the same years as the U.S. did?

    In the U.S., Prohibition took effect in 1920. In Russia, it started a few years earlier, during World War I. But during the first half of the 1920s, the country desperately needed the money from alcohol sales, so they began allowing it again in stages:

    • August 1921: Sale of wine legalized
    • 1922: Sale of beer legalized
    • January 1923: Sale of drinks up to 20% legalized
    • December 1924: Sale of drinks up to 30% legalized
    • August 1925: Sale of vodka up to 40% legalized

    As this 1922 New York Times Magazine article noted, the issue was less about sin and vice, and more about finances.

    The question, in Russia at least, is not a moral but an economic one. The Russian Government needs the money, and the $500,000,000 of annual revenue that the old Imperial Government made out of the vodka monopoly looms large in the eyes of the present regime, in view of the shortage of gold to stabilize Russia’s exchange and so enable the country to resume world trade.

    In the U.S., Prohibition was eventually repealed in 1933 because most people felt the experiment didn’t work. In Russia, though, many felt their experiment had worked. Repeal there came about much more reluctantly, out of a sense of financial necessity. Per the 1922 article again:

    “No intelligent man in Russia wants to go back to vodka,” the Secretary of President Kalinin declared. “It was a terrible curse and worked incalculable harm to the Russian people — a shameful partnership between the Government and drunkenness in the old days. But the lack of the tools of economic reconstruction is also driving Russia backward along the road of civilization. One has to choose between two evils — economic ruin, or the return of vodka and with it an income that will make it possible for the Government to buy abroad what we must have to get the country on its feet again. The President favors the return to vodka, not because he wants it, but because he can see no other way.”

    More recently, some Russian eastern territories have banned the sale of alcohol within 300 meters of military recruitment offices. Excessive drunkenness among soldiers has become too large a problem, particularly during the past eight months’ invasion of Ukraine.

    Vodka or Ruin

    Published: Sunday, October 22, 1922

  • Trotzky Explains New Red Capitalism

    A 1922 New York Times Magazine profile spelled the Soviet Union revolutionary’s name Leon Trotzky, with a ‘z.’ When did the predominant spelling become Leon Trotsky, with an ‘s’?

    Google Books’ Ngram Viewer allows you to search for the relative popularity of different words or phrases in books over time. The ‘s’ spelling actually first became more frequent in 1921, the year before this 1922 article was published, but the margin was close for a few years. The ‘s’ spelling first exceeded the ‘z’ spelling by at least double in 1925.

    In 2019, the most recent year available, the ‘s’ spelling won out by 93x.

    Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

    Trotzky Explains New Red Capitalism

    Published: Sunday, October 15, 2022

  • The Age of Heroines

    According to a 1922 New York Times Magazine article, the average age of female protagonists in love stories had increased by about a decade since around 1900 or so.

    In the appreciation of the public of today, mature beauty eclipses mere girlish loveliness. It was not always so. Fifteen or twenty years ago the heroines of love stories were 18 or 20 years old, arguing a contemporary public view that this was the most interesting time of life in woman. A canvass of the recent novels shows that the average heroine today is 28 years old.

    Curiously, this came during a period where the exact opposite trend was occurring in “real life.” The median age of first marriage went down between 1900 and 1920, for both women and men alike:

    Source: https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/newsroom/blogs/2014/02/marrying-older-but-sooner/Figure-11.jpg

    The Age of Heroines

    Published: Sunday, October 1, 1922

  • Ford, Democracy, and the Motor Car

    A 1922 New York Times Magazine article argued that Henry Ford proved the promise of America’s free market system, during the exact same period as Vladimir Lenin proved the inexorably grim fate of the opposite economic system:

    The twentieth century opened with a struggle between Capital and the Commune, which the war brought sharply to an issue, and a test case was this country. What Lenin did was to prove that the Commune, however honest, must fail. What Ford did was to prove that Capital, unless dishonest, must succeed. And with those two propositions, thus personified, one can safely buy Liberty bonds and sleep sound in one’s bed.

    How rich was Ford in 1922? I’m actually having trouble tracking down figures for that exact year, but in 1918, Forbes ranked him as tied for the #8 richest person in America with approximately $100M. Likely he at least maintained that rank, if not improved upon it a few spots, by 1922.

    You’ve probably heard of at least two of the people ranked tied or ahead of Ford in 1918: oil baron John D. Rockefeller at #1 and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie at #3. Interestingly, four of the nine people whose wealth Ford either tied or exceeded in 1918 would be dead by 1922. 

    P.W. Wilson concluded his 1922 piece about Ford with a reflection on how much Ford’s invention helped the lives of those middle-class and even lower-class Americans whose wealth he now monumentally exceeded:

    He is, I suppose, very rich. Yet it is the very poor who least grudge him the wealth. Henry — it is thought — is entitled to his pay envelope, even if it be a fat one.

    Ford, Democracy, and the Motor Car

    Published: Sunday, September 24, 1922