Ninety years of history, summed up, proved too much to fit into just one post. This is part two of our historical journey, picking up at the 1890’s. Enjoy!
Hundreds of Indian men, women, and children—and only 29 soldiers—were slain during the last major battle between U.S. troops and Indians with the Battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota. However, while these indigenous people were being killed off, in 1896, Ellis Island Immigration Station opened and within that first year, over 450,000 immigrants passed through.
Thanks to James Naismith, basketball—and all its rules—was officially created and played in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1892. That same year, The General Electric Company was formed. What a time to be alive—in with electricity and out with candles! Toward the end of the year, the first recital of the Pledge of Allegiance was given in U.S. public schools to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day.
The 90’s saw some downs as well as ups. On May 5th, 1893, The New York Stock Exchange collapsed which actually started the financial panic of 1893 and would turn into a four-year period depression. On May 18th, 1896, the Supreme Court during Plessy versus Ferguson decided racial segregation was approved under “separate but equal” doctrine.
In 1893, there was the Oklahoma Land Race—or the Cherokee Strip Land Run—which basically put 7 million acres of the Cherokee Strip up for grabs…well, for purchase. This land was apparently sold by the Indian tribe for $7,000,000. On other Indian territories, in 1897, oil was discovered on leased Osage tribe land. This sparked a huge population growth in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
In Colorado, there were radical thoughts happening and women were granted the right to vote in 1893—progressive, right? Speaking of progression, in 1897, the great era of the subway began with the first underground public transportation opening in Boston, Massachusetts. In the same city, the first Boston Marathon was run with 15 runners—John McDermott won. In 1899, Congress approved the use of voting machines in federal elections, propelling us further into a progressive era.
Strike! Strike! Strike strike strike strike STRIKE!!! In 1899, newsboys in NYC rallied and went on strike for weeks protesting child labor. The ’90s saw several strikes within the industrial workforce—the Homestead strike as well as the Pullman Strike. Surprisingly, as a peace offering to the labor movement that followed the crackdown on the Pullman Strike, the U.S. Congress designated the first Monday of September as a legal holiday. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Labor Day was born in September of 1894 to mark contributions of labor everywhere. Sometimes, strikes pay off.
Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah became the 43rd, 44th, and 45th states during the ’90s. The first theatre, Olympia, was opened in the Times Square section of NYC. Carnegie Hall opened in NYC as well. Thomas Edison introduced to the public The Kinetoscope, which was an early motion picture exhibition device.
Charlotte Gilman published The Yellow Wallpaper in 1892, and The Jungle Book also made its appearance. Another major appearance in America was the first successful commercial automobile by the Duryea brothers. Ah, commercialism. Thank goodness for Coca-Cola being sold in bottles on March 12th, 1894.William McKinley was inaugurated as the 25th President of the United States on March 4, 1897.
(Politics, a strange place, part two!) President William H. McKinley, while at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, was shot in the process of shaking hands with fair visitors on September 6th, 1901. A little over a week later, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated as president in response to the death of McKinley.
The first-ever census of the 20th century shows the population of the United States had risen to 76,212,168, a 21% increase from 1890. As well, all fifty entities that would become the fifty states were included, and the center of the U.S. population geographically was now Columbus, Indiana.
Los Angeles, California got the first movie theatre in the United States called the Electric Theatre. Other firsts include the air conditioner which Willis Carrier created in 1902. His company would air condition buildings including The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and Madison Square Garden. This year also brought about the first Crayola crayons—the familiar yellow and green boxes held 8 different colors. The first two-way wireless communication occurred between the United States and England with a message transmitted from President Roosevelt to King of England. President Theodore Roosevelt took the first official trip abroad by a United States president to inspect the Panama Canal construction progress. A tradition that continues to this day first happened on January 1, 1908, with the dropping of a ball in New York’s Times Square. The first speed limits occurred when Connecticut passed new laws which limited the speeds of automobiles to 10 MPH in cities, 15 MPH in villages, and 20 MPH in rural areas. Thankfully those limits have adapted and changed.
President Theodore Roosevelt is considered the first modern President. He used government regulation to achieve social and economic justice. In 1906, he granted protection to Indian ruins and designated lands with historic and scientific features as national monuments (the Antiquities Act.) This act helped Roosevelt to expand the National Parks System. Even after Roosevelt had left the Presidential office, President William Howard Taft continued designating national monuments with Oregon Caves National Monument and later designating the southwestern Utah lands, Mukuntuweap, that would become Zion National Park.
In 1907, the Oklahoma Territory and the Indian Territory were combined to create Oklahoma, entering in as the 46th state. Progress in the political world came with the first Native American Senator taking office this same year. More headway was made when The National Conference of the Negro was conducted. This lead to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, most commonly known as the NAACP.
Technology moved forward in 1908 as the first passenger flight on a plane took place. Wilbur Wright escorted Charles W. Furnas in the Wright Flyer III at Huffman Prairie Flying Field in Dayton, Ohio. On top of that, the first production Model T was built at the Ford plant in Detroit, Michigan. The Ford Model T wore a price tag of $850, 1/3 of the price of any other car on the market—yet, somehow not cheap enough for the masses. Henry Ford continued to perfect the assembly line production over the next few years getting that cost down to $368 (in 1916). He sold hundreds of thousands more cars than any other company.
We can thank the year 1910, along with W.S. Boyce, Edward S. Stewart, and Stanley D. Willis for founding the Boy Scout Association. This same year on April 10th, Halley’s Comet came into naked-eye view. Just four days later, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank—killing over 1,500 passengers and crew members. Something of a legend was first made by Nabisco in 1912: yes, the first-ever Oreo cookie! New York World published the first crossword puzzle. The Grand Central Terminal was completed and opened to New Yorkers in 1913. With advances in the states and money being made, the 16th Amendment was ratified which allowed the government to collect a personal income tax. Therefore, the first 1040 form was created—it mandated that taxes would be collected on incomes over $3,000.
Not only did 1912 give us Oreo cookies, but also the American Girl Guides, who were renamed to Girl Scouts a year later, and formed in Savannah, Georgia. This was the decade of yummy treats.
Controversy hit the screens in 1915 with D. W. Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation. This film painted African Americans in a horrendous light while glorifying the KKK—and thus reviving interest in the Ku Klux Klan throughout the nation.
1916 commenced the irrational—yet totally understandable—fear of sharks when a series of Great White shark attacks killed four people, injuring one, and terrifying thousands, off the Jersey shore. Over in Memphis, Tennessee, a Piggly-Wiggly became the first self-help grocery. Even greater than that, Montana put forth the first American woman ever elected to Congress, Jeannette Rankin.
Once again, technology propelled forward with the first transcontinental airline flight. It began in New York by C.P. Rodgers and completed its journey to Pasadena, California after numerous stops and 82 hours and 4 minutes in the air. As stated in the 1900s, the Ford Motor Company introduced the first moving assembly line for mass production thus decreasing automobile construction time by 10 hours per vehicle. Additionally, the company increased basic wage rates to $5 per day versus the previous $2.40.
President Woodrow Wilson decided on August 4th, 1914 that the United States would officially stay neutral in the European conflict which would become World War I. However, that neutral status wouldn’t last long and in 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany—after cutting diplomatic ties with them earlier that year—and joined the allies in World War I.
This is the decade where the first black boxer won the Heavyweight Boxing Championship—yes, the Jack Johnson stirred up the boxing pot with controversy by taking the title from a white man.
The 1920’s, a.k.a., The Roaring Twenties, a.k.a., The Jazz Age, a.k.a.—What a time to be alive! This decade started out in a surging economy that created mass consumerism. More Americans lived in cities than on farms in rural country. The total wealth in the U.S. more than doubled between 1920 to 1929. This lead to a “consumer society” where people from coast to coast bought the same goods like ready-to-wear clothes, radios, electric refrigerators, and other home appliances, but they also listened to the same music, dancing the same dances, and now using the same slang.
The flapper is the most common and familiar symbol of the “Roaring Twenties”: young western women who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, were more sexually “free” than previous generations, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Of note though is the fact that most women of the 1920s didn’t do any of these things besides adopting the fashionable flapper wardrobe. Women did make advancements in unprecedented freedoms: they could finally vote! The 19th Amendment guaranteed them this right in 1920.
Millions of women worked in white-collar jobs and could afford to participate in the burgeoning consumer economy. The increased availability of birth-control made it possible for women to have greater control in planning a family. And new machines and technologies like the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner eliminated some of the drudgeries of household work. This decade was truly one for the women.
The ’20s gave way to the first publication of Time Magazine. Warner Brothers Pictures was founded as well. The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was held on November 27th, 1924. The great class novel, The Great Gatsby was published by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925. The major U.S. road running from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66, opened. May 15th, 1928 gave way to the first appearance of Mickey and Minnie Mouse on film in the animated short, Plane Crazy. Speaking of film, historians estimate that by the end of the decade, three-quarters of the American population visited a movie theater every week.
It may appear as backward thinking, but in 1924, all Indians were designated citizens by U.S. Congress. This Indian Citizenship Act granted this right to all the Native Americans that were born within the territory of the United States. Yet, they still weren’t allowed to vote in the land in which they were born.
The decade of the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age ended on a sour note with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that generated a panic and wiped out millions of investors thus starting the period of the Great Depression.
Unfortunately, the 1930s started off in—and to this day is still known as—the Great Depression. This decade began with roughly 15 million Americans being unemployed. The United States was not prepared for this crash: there was no insurance or compensation for unemployed as well as the banks not being regulated or insured. What should have been just a normal recession turned into the Great Depression. What is more, the president at the time appeared to be doing nothing to help such a traumatic experience for his citizens. President Hoover simply encouraged Americans to be patient and self-reliant. He was quickly passed up for the newly elected president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This new president promised to use the power of the federal government to make the citizens’ lives better.
Roosevelt enacted what he called the New Deal which created a new role for government in American life over the next nine years. He swiftly went to work to, as he said, “wage a war against the emergency” as though “we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” This entailed shoring up the nation’s banks and proposing more comprehensive reforms. Such actions were greatly needed as the ’30s was becoming a time where bank robbers and murderers were thought of as celebrities (a sort of modern Robin Hood.) However, in truthfulness, they did not rob from the rich to give to the poor but merely just to rob and murder any who got in their way. Such a strange phenomenon needed to end and luckily Roosevelt helped to make banks more reputable for the USA again.
Within his first 100 days, he passed 15 major laws—including the Home Owners’ Loan Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act (which fundamentally reshaped the American economy), the Glass-Steagall Banking Bill, the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, and the Agricultural Adjustment Act. Roosevelt’s actions immensely boosted Americans’ confidence in the future of their country and ensured them that truly “the only thing [they had] to fear is fear itself.”
Though most Americans struggled during this time financially, many households were able to afford a radio and enjoy this means of entertainment for free. Americans could escape their everyday struggles through radio broadcasts including soap operas, comedy programs, and even sporting events. Additionally, swing music encouraged people to cast aside their troubles and dance while movies also offered the people a way to escape grim realities despite tight budgets—such trends that continue into today’s world. The 1930s officially approved The Star-Spangled Banner as the national anthem, and Arizona scientists discovered a ninth planet that they named Pluto. The discovery inspired Walt Disney to introduce a new animated character, Pluto, Mickey Mouse’s canine companion. Al Capone, the notorious gangster, “doesn’t do shirts” but did get convicted of Income Tax Evasion.
1932 was the year that Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic. Not only did the news of her landing in Ireland bring instant international fame, but she also later received awards from the U.S. Congress, the French Government and from President Hoover. Unfortunately, just five years later she disappeared during a circumnavigation flight attempt. In 1933, 15 years of the prohibition of alcohol ended with the passing of the 21st Amendment, which was enthusiastically met by most Americans.
While dust storms ravaged farmers of the midwestern and western states, a nationwide scare ravaged all radio listeners when Orson Welles broadcasted his War of the Worlds radio drama. It included a fake news bulletin stating that a Martian invasion had begun on earth. With 80% of Americans owning a radio, it truly was a nation-wide scare. Penguin produced their first paperback books, bringing affordable modern literature to the masses. Oh, what a time to be alive!
Text and Image Research by Christina Porter