1900s: At a Glance
1900s: At a Glance
What We Said:
As Tom Dalzell, author of Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang, points out, slang did not become an important element of American speech until the 1920s. Slang, it should be remembered, is language that attains special meaning because of its use by a subgroup of the larger society. It was not until the rise of the youth, music, and racial subcultures in the 1920s that slang truly rose to its present importance as an element of popular culture. However, three of the more popular terms of the decade were:
"23 Skidoo!": The most popular expression of the decade, this phrase could be used to mean almost anything, though it was generally used to express approval.
Babe: A pretty girl.
"Good to the last drop" (1907): This enduring advertising slogan for Maxwell House Coffee was rumored to have been invented by President Theodore Roosevelt, who remarked that his cup of coffee he had just drank was "good to the last drop."
What We Read:
Sears, Roebuck catalog: Also known as the "Wish Book," this department store catalog was popular reading in many households. Started in 1891, the catalog was so popular at the turn of the century that people often joked that it was one of the two books rural people ever read!
Comic strips: The "funnies" became a daily part of many newspapers after the New York Journal published the first eight-page comics section on October 18, 1896.
Dime novels: These inexpensive books were tremendously popular. George Patten wrote the adventures of Frank Merriwell for Tip Top Weekly. Starting in 1896, Patten's new stories reached about 125 million readers each week.
The Jungle (1906): Upton Sinclair wrote this damning account of the dangerous conditions in the meat packing industry. The nation responded to his discovery by pushing for new laws for food and drug handling and the sales of meat dropped by half.
Ladies' Home Journal and Collier's Weekly: These two popular magazines wrote to inform and entertain women. Ladies' Home Journal often included romantic stories.
What We Watched:
For the most part, people during this decade entertained themselves at public and private gathering places such as saloons, sporting clubs, private clubs, churches, and barbershops.
Traveling entertainment: Acts that visited towns throughout the country included vaudeville and minstrel shows. During the decade, there were more than four hundred touring companies in the country. Almost every town had a vaudeville theater.
Circuses: Many circus companies toured the country, with the Ringling Bros. Circus and Barnum & Bailey Circus each trying to be the "greatest". Some were supported by ninety railcars full of animals, entertainers, and props.
Sporting events: Crowds in cities across the country gathered to watch their favorite games. The first game of the first World Series was held on October 4, 1903, and drew a crowd of twenty-five thousand fans in Boston. The American League's Boston Pilgrims beat Pittsburgh's National League Pirates to win the series on October 14.
The Great Train Robbery (1903): This flick was the first movie to provide true suspenseful drama. Five years after its release, there were ten thousand nickelodeons in towns across the nations, ready to offer moviegoers the latest entertainment.
World's Fair: The World's Fair of 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri, drew record crowds.
Olympics: The third Olympics Games were held in 1904 to accompany the World's Fair.
Air meets: Once Wilbur and Orville Wright proved that men could fly in 1908, many people tried to build their own flying machines in their backyards. Air meets, where daredevils would gather to show off their lasted inventions, were especially popular spectacles during the decade.
What We Listened To:
"Meet Me in St. Louis" (1904): This hit song was inspired by the World's Fair of 1904 that was held in St. Louis. The fair attracted more than twenty million visitors.
"In My Merry Oldsmobile" (1905): This song by Vincent Bryan and Gus Edwards boasted pride in the decade's new technology.
"You're a Grand Old Flag" (1906): This song by George M. Cohan highlighted patriotism.
Who We Knew:
Henry Ford (1863–1947): Soon after the establishment of the Ford Motor Company in 1903, Henry Ford and his affordable cars became wildly popular with Americans. By the middle of the next decade, Ford would make half of all the cars in the country.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919): Upon the assassination of President William McKinley in 1900, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became president. His dynamism and charisma defined the age. He guided the country during the building of the Panama Canal and won the Nobel Peace Prize, among other noted accomplishments.
The Wright Brothers (Wilbur, 1867–1912; Orville, 1871–1948): Aviation pioneers, the Wright brothers are credited with the first motor-powered airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, December 17, 1903.