• The Great Radio Handicap

    1923 was the first year that 1% of American households had a radio. That same year, New York Times Magazine reported that “radio parties” were taking off, and it was becoming harder to sell homes in areas with poor radio signals.

    The radio party is becoming quite the thing, particularly among commuters. When the owner of a set has what is called an “amplifier” he can invite in the neighbors, and everybody may listen to the strains of a distant concert, the latest advice on how to save money though broke, and the proper way to treat a crying child. Often is is these radio parties which work havoc with early rising.

    No wonder real estate agents were finding quality wireless reception an increasing mandatory attribute for a house.

    It has reached the point that a suburban villa is difficult to sell if there is anything around to interfere with the radio connections. A gas tank, for instance, is very disturbing to a radio set because the mass of metal upsets the ethereal waves. And certainly the waves cannot be blamed.

    Radios would be in a majority of American households starting in 1931.

    The Great Radio Handicap

    Published: Sunday, March 18, 1923

  • An American Viceroy For Europe?

    In 1922, four years after World War I ended, P.W. Wilson wrote a New York Times Magazine column advocating for American occupation of Europe — like how the Allies would later occupy Japan and Germany for several years after World War II.

    Mere military, money, and moralities will never save Europe. Like the Phillippines, she must be governed.

    If Europe is to be saved, she must be annexed. She must be united under an American Viceroy. Senator Borah, for instance, Colonel Harvey, or somebody of that kind.

    “Senator Borah” referred to Sen. William Borah (R-ID) — although, interestingly, he would not ascend to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair position until 1924. “Colonel Harvey” referred to Harvey Weir Cook, the World War I flying ace.

    Ultimately, Wilson’s idea of an American-occupied Europe was never adopted, but a similar idea was adopted after the next world war. The Allies occupied Japan from 1945-52, primarily under Douglas MacArthur. The Allies also occupied Germany from 1945-49, at first under Dwight Eisenhower and then under Lucius Clay.

    An American Viceroy For Europe?

    Published: Sunday, March 11, 1922

  • A Child’s Day in Court

    New York state established children’s courts in 1922. By 1923, a New York Times Magazine article detailed what they were like for juvenile defendants.

    In those days the Judge would say, “Officer, what is the charge?” “Stealing.” “Thirty days in the workhouse” — or whatever it might be, and call the next case. But now he looks the boy straight in the eye and in a kindly tone says: “Tony, tell me how it all happened.”

    While this more lenient approach was adopted for small and medium crimes, not necessarily when the crime in question was more severe.

    A small negro was brought in for murder. “Moider,” as the whispers ran in the corridors, “he’s a moiderer.” He, I believe, was taken from his parents and put in the Children’s Village up-State, there to think of his sins, and grow up under trained supervision. But even he was a “moiderer” in name only, as he had seemed much surprised when they told him his playmate was dead, because he had hit him on the head with a bar of iron! 

    The Supreme Court banned the death penalty for juveniles in 2004’s Roper v. Simmons, by a 5-4 vote.

    A Child’s Day in Court

    Published: Sunday, March 4, 1923

  • Who’ll Be Head of the Family?

    In February 1923, New York Times Magazine asked: who should be considered the preeminent moral leader of the western world? For various reasons, writer Anne O’Hare McCormick cast doubt on then-leaders in the U.S., U.K., France, and even the pope.

    Where is the spokeman strong enough to speak for us — the more flexible Wilson, the profounder [Theodore] Roosevelt?

    The article ruled out both President Warren Harding and his top foreign policy official.

    The voice of Secretary Hughes [U.S. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes] thundered impressively for a while in 1921, but it has sunk to a feeble whisper in 1923.

    The article argued that while the prior U.K. prime minister could have qualified, after his recent October 1922 resignation, his new successor was no match.

    [David Lloyd George] was endowed with the political knack and cultivated the political knowingness that seemed to call him to a kind of premiership of the world… And Britain appears to have no rival geniuses.

    France was also out.

    France has been too busy to present a personal candidate. Clemenceau [prime minister until 1920] is too responsible for the old order to create a new.

    Various other possibilities were also out.

    No hereditary ruler even pretends to fit the bill.

    Pope Benedict XV, if he could have developed for ten years more the amazing statesmanship of his seven years’ pontificate, might have reasserted in this second Dark Age a central moral authority. His successor is still new and unknown.

    Pius XI had only risen to the papacy a year prior, in February 1922. He would serve for 17 years, until 1939.

    Over the next two decades following the article’s publication, the answers became much clearer. On the sheer force of their personas, the preeminent leaders of the western world became FDR and Churchill. Yet both men remained far from that status in February 1923.

    FDR held no government office at the time. His prior political career seemed at a possible dead end, after his 1920 Democratic nomination for vice presidential nomination lost the general election. His subsequent political comeback, in which he won the New York governorship, wouldn’t occur until 1928.

    Churchill had just lost his seat in Parliament in November 1922. He would return to government in 1924 as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the U.K.’s equivalent of America’s Secretary of the Treasury. But in 1923, after undergoing an appendectomy, he declared himself a man “without an office, without a seat, without a party, and without an appendix.”

    Who’ll Be Head of the Family?

    Published: Sunday, February 25, 1923

  • Charge of the Little Embassies at Washington

    While Prohibition applied almost everywhere in the U.S. in the 1930s, foreign embassies were exempt. As a 1923 New York Times Magazine article described, this made embassies some of the hottest tickets in D.C.

    The embassies and legations were to discover that they had the monopoly on a fast-disappearing social talent of serving unlimited sparkling Burgundies and champagnes. … At the very most conservative estimate, prohibition has added appreciably to the social importance of the South American and smaller European embassies.

    One nation was singled out for particularly taking advantage of this legal loophole.

    Japan was the first to grasp the full strategic importance of that event to the foreign diplomats within our gates. During the arms conference last fall, it is said that Japan laid in a whole cellarful of choicest liquors — and that the cellar gave out and had to be restocked. At one of the Japanese social functions, given in honor of the army and navy, there was a regular bar, with three bartenders serving Johnny Walker and Japanese drinks.

    In the modern era, many embassies still offer plenty of entertainment to the public, including concerts, film screenings, sports viewing parties, cooking classes, exhibits, and talks. 

    Charge of the Little Embassies at Washington

    Published: Sunday, February 4, 1923

  • Is the World Going Dry?

    A 1923 New York Times Magazine article detailed the contemporary efforts of other countries to ban alcohol, just as the U.S. did with Prohibition in 1919. Like the U.S., most of those nations also ended the experiment within years.

    Actual prohibition has been adopted by the entire Dominion of Canada, except the Provinces of Quebec and British Columbia; by many native States in India, by the Angora Government in Turkey [sic], and by Finland.

    How did these experiments turn out?

    Turkiye, as the State Department now spells it as of earlier this month, enacted prohibition for only one year in 1923 before reversing course.

    Finland’s prohibition ran from 1920 to 1933, almost the exact same years as the U.S. did from 1919 to 1933.

    Canada enacted Prohibition on a province-by-province basis, but most provinces indeed did so, and they repealed it on their own individual timelines. Quebec repealed it in 1919, followed by British Columbia in 1920, Manitoba in 1923, Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1924, Newfoundland in 1925, Ontario and New Brunswick in 1927, Nova Scotia in 1930 — though the final holdout Prince Edward Island didn’t end it until 1948.

    The nations that still ban alcohol today are primarily located in northern Africa or the Middle East and do so for religious reasons: Afghanstan, Brunei, Iran, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

    Is the World Going Dry?

    Published: Sunday, January 21, 1923

  • Washington’s Prohibition Farce

    In 1923, bootleggers and speakeasies bypassed the ostensible ban on alcohol. As a New York Times Magazine article documented, that even occurred in the nation’s capital, where the Prohibition constitutional amendment originated.

    Certain minor employees about the House and Senate supplement their meagre [sic] salaries, it is said, by doing a little bootlegging on the side.

    Two bootleggers came to blows not long since on Capitol Hill, because one of them resented trespass by the other in distributing white corn liquor on the second floor of the House Office Building, which he regarded as his personal preserve.

    One difference between D.C. and elsewhere was the former’s “go big or go home” approach to alcohol.

    It is not true in Washington, as it is in New York and many other cities, that there are places where a single drink may be purchased. The sales are in bulk, so far as can be learned; but one bootlegger, who is also proprietor of a restaurant, says he sells sixty gallons of hootch a day and that the restaurant interferes seriously with his business.

    Do as I say, clearly, but not as I do.

    This article combining the subjects of D.C. and alcohol got me thinking. I perform most weekends at Georgetown Piano Bar. Does anybody know whether there were any piano bars in D.C. a century ago? Surely there were bars, at least legal ones both before and after Prohibition, but were there piano bars specifically? 

    If anybody can provide any insight, please post in the comments.

    Washington’s Prohibition Farce

    Published: Sunday, January 14, 1923

  • Glimpses of the Great

    When the writer Agnes M. Miall penned a 1923 New York Times Magazine piece about interviewing, she claimed to have invented a new word in that very piece: “interviewee.” Today, the word is used in everyday conversation.

    While Merriam-Webster dictionary says the word’s first known use was in 1884, clearly it was essentially unknown by 1923, or else Miall would never claim to have invented it then. Indeed, according to Google Books Ngram Viewer, the word’s frequency in books began to noticeably rise starting somewhere around 1923:


    Another interesting finding from that graph: the singular word interviewee and plural form interviewees always ran approximately equal in frequency from the 1920s through 1980s, until the 1990s when the plural interviewees began to break away.

    That trend has remained ever since. In 2019, the most recent full year for which data is available, interviewees ran +88% ahead — almost double.

    Why? No obvious reason stands out to me. If anybody has a good idea, please post it in the comments.

    Glimpses of the Great

    Published: Sunday, January 7, 1923

  • Pity the Poor Newspaper Poets!

    A 1922 New York Times Magazine article analyzed the contemporary state of newspaper poetry, which was a widespread feature in journalism publications back then. Today, it’s almost completely disappeared.

    Even the few journalism publications which run poetry in their print editions today, like the New Yorker and the Atlantic, are magazines. For newspapers, though, it’s basically gone.


    Former Illinois poet laureate Kevin Stein suggests it was because of World War I and the subsequent rise of the Modernism movement in culture, in areas ranging from music to painting to (yes) poetry. This excerpt comes from Stein’s 2010 book Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age.

    Artists of all stripes asked why one should put faith in the old values and social foundations when, after all, these very social forces had produced trench warfare, the machine gun, the tank, gas attacks, and various means of mass and anonymous killing. Romantic poetry — like the sword fight and the cavalry charge — appeared hopelessly outmoded in a culture exercising such destructive wrath.

    As a result, newspapers were no longer the preferred medium for poets.

    Partly by poets’ choices and partly as a result of the newfangled aesthetic these poets ushered in, a schism developed between them and the polite reading public. Poets looking for a modern mode of distributing their verse turned away from the newspapers and slick magazines, for those venues seemed complicit in promoting and sustaining the bankrupt values that had led the modern world astray.

    That choice came at a cost, though, as poetry plummeted in popularity. Cultural commentator Chuck Klosterman described this phenomenon in his 2016 book But What If We’re Wrong?

    In 1936, a quarterly magazine called The Colophon polled its subscribers… about what contemporary writers they believed would be viewed as canonical at the turn of the twenty-first century. … [Of the top 10], they voted for three poets. If such a poll were taken today, it’s hard to imagine how far down the list one would have to scan before finding the name of even one. A present-day Colophon would need to create a separate category for poetry, lest it not be recognized at all.

    Pity the Poor Newspaper Poets!

    Published: Sunday, December 31, 1922

  • Women Alone in New York

    Amid a rise in unmarried women, and two years after women were granted the constitutional right to vote, a 1922 New York Times Magazine article profiled “Women Alone in New York.” The byline was “By one of them.”

    The article described both the positives of this lifestyle…

    But the thing which appeals most is the very impersonality of New York life — the feeling that no one cares what you are doing or why. A woman alone causes no comment, for she is only one of thousands.

    No member of the family comes tearing in to ask you to help lengthen a skirt, or tells you that the Browns are downstairs and it is only decent of you to go down. The phone doesn’t ring summoning you to serve on a committee the other members of which are hopeless imbeciles. You don’t have to do a darned thing you don’t want to.

    …and the negatives:

    You see them everywhere, when your mind has awakened to their presence — these women you know are living lonely, shut-in, thwarted lives, away from the sort of human contacts that make for normal, happy living. … The look is there, the hungry, cheated look which means that somehow, in the mad race of achievement, they have let life — real life — pass them by and not even through a megaphone can they call him back.

    What about in the modern era? Of the 100 largest U.S. cities, New York City currently ranks #28 for the highest percentage of single women, at 60.4%.

    • #1 is Detroit at 77.4%.
    • #100 is Fremont, California at 34.7%.
    • In only 17 of the 100 largest U.S. cities is the percentage of single women below 50%.

    Women Alone in New York

    Published: Sunday, December 24, 1922