1910s: At a Glance
1910s: At a Glance
What We Said:
Slang was still a decade away from being a prominent part of popular culture. One slogan did, however, enter the American lexicon:
"When It Rains It Pours" (1911): This advertising slogan let consumers know that Morton salt would not clump up and stick together, but it was made popular in a different way. The expression came to mean that once something happens, it may set in motion a string of unstoppable events.
What We Read:
The Rosary (1909): The best-selling novel of 1910, this sentimental romance was written by an English woman named Florence Barclay. The novel was translated into eight languages and had sold over a million copies by 1921.
Books by Theodore Dreiser: Dreiser became the dominant American realist writer with several books published during the decade: Jennie Gerhardt (1911), Sister Carrie (1911 [first published in 1900 but suppressed by the publisher]), The Financier (1912), The Titan (1914), and The "Genius" (1915).
O Pioneers! (1913) and My Antonia (1918): Author Willa Cather gained fame for her portrayals of people trying to survive in the harsh settings of the American prairie.
Over the Top (1917): Written by Arthur Guy Empey, who served with the British army in the trenches on the Western Front, this war book introduced Americans to the horrors of World War I in Europe.
The U.P. Trail (1918): Written by one of the most popular writers of the decade, Zane Grey, this Western tells the story of the creation of the transcontinental railroad. Grey also published such favorites as Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), The Lone Star Ranger: A Romance of the Border (1915), and The Desert of Wheat (1919).
Magazines: Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Weekly, Cosmopolitan, and American Magazine were among the most popular magazines of the decade.
What We Watched:
Vaudeville shows and musical revues: These forms of entertainment, which began in the 1900s, continued their popularity into the 1910s, despite the rise of movies. The annual Ziegfeld Follies—with its stage full of chorus girls—was one of the biggest draws in New York, while traveling vaudeville shows brought variety to American cities large and small.
Queen Elizabeth (1913): The first four-reel (60 minute) film, starring Sarah Bernhardt, allowed moviemakers to tell a full-length dramatic story.
The Adventures of Kathlyn (1913): The first in a thirteen-part serial—a series of movies about one character or set of characters—starred Kathlyn Williams, who was billed as "The Girl without Fear." The most popular serial of the decade was The Perils of Pauline, which was released in biweekly installments in 1914.
Quo Vadis (1913): The first eight-reel (two-hour) film, made in Italy, was shown in the United States.
Gertie the Dinosaur (1914): This animated silent film featuring a female dinosaur, created by comic strip artist Winsor McCay, is considered the forerunner to modern animated films, including Walt Disney's Steamboat Willie (1929).
Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914): Directed by Mack Sennett, known as the father of film comedy, this six-reel comedy was one of the most popular films starring the Keystone Kops, a group of inept policeman. It starred stage actress Marie Dressler and had Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand in supporting roles.
The Birth of a Nation (1915): The decade's most controversial film, directed by D. W. Griffith, tells the story of the American Civil War and Reconstruction, and presents favorable depictions of the racist group the Ku Klux Klan. The film caused great controversy and was banned from many theaters.
Intolerance (1916): Directed by D. W. Griffith, this film is considered the first great American epic. Over three-and-one-half hours long and with a huge cast, the story tells of the impact of historical events on ordinary people.
Western films directed by Thomas Ince: His action-packed movies about cowboys and villains on the frontier included War on the Plains (1912), Custer's Last Raid (1912), The Bargain (1914), Hell's Hinges (1916), and The Gun Fighter (1917).
Movies about World War I: Moviegoers enjoyed such films as War Is Hell (1914), The War Bride's Secret (1916), The Fall of a Nation (1916), The Little American (1917)—directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Mary Pickford—and The Kaiser, Beast of Berlin (1918).
What We Listened To:
John Philip Sousa: The famed bandmaster toured the world with his one-hundred-piece marching band in 1910.
Tin Pan Alley music: Professional sheet music companies located in New York City's Tin Pan Alley produced some of the decade's most popular music, including Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1911), George M. Cohan's war-themed "Over There" (1917), Richard Whiting's "Till We Meet Again" (1917), and George Gershwin's "Swanee" (1919).
The Victrola: The Victor Talking Machine Company modified Thomas Edison's phonograph into the Victrola in 1915, which soon became the most popular American record player. The first Victrola, with its large, trumpet-like megaphone, is quite expensive, however, and does not gain wide popularity until the 1920s.
The Dixieland Jazz Band: This ensemble toured the United States in 1916 and became the first musicians to make a jazz recording in 1917.
War-influenced music: In 1918, World War I influenced popular music, producing such songs as "Would You Rather Be a Colonel with an Eagle on Your Shoulder or a Private with a Chicken on Your Knee?," "I'd Like to See the Kaiser with a Lily in His Hand," and "General Pershing Will Cross the Rhine."
"Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning": Irving Berlin's song was one of the most popular songs of 1919.
African American musical groups: Several toured the country, introducing Americans to new musical styles that would become jazz and the blues. These groups included the Superior Orchestra, the Onward Brass Band, Ma Rainey's Georgia Jazz Band, and a band led by Jelly Roll Morton.
Who We Knew:
John Dewey (1859–1952): This American philosopher, educator, and psychologist is widely credited for shaping the school system that continues to educate American children today. Dewey believed that American democracy would work best if all students were given an education that balanced academic learning and vocational training. His book Democracy and Education (1916) is still hailed as a guide to educating students to contribute to a democratic society.
William C. "Billy" Durant (1861–1947): Billy Durant emerged as one of the best-known businessmen of the decade thanks to his ambitious leadership of the car manufacturer General Motors, for a time the world's largest industrial company. Durant formed General Motors in 1908, and by 1910 the growing company had swallowed up thirty smaller companies, including eleven automakers. After losing control of the company in 1911, Durant regained control in 1915 and rebuilt the company to become an industry leader by 1919, when it was valued at $1 billion. Durant was known as a great innovator in the automobile industry.
Marcus Garvey (1877–1940): An important black leader during the 1910s and 1920s, Marcus Garvey was born in Jamaica and traveled widely before arriving in America in 1916. With the influence of black leaders Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois fading, Garvey encouraged African Americans to join together to build businesses or, if whites would not accept them, leave the country in a "Back to Africa" movement. Garvey formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association and published a leading African American weekly paper, the Negro World. Though Garvey's plans saw little success, he was later hailed by black leader Malcolm X as a visionary.
W. C. Handy (1873–1958): Known as the "Father of the Blues," this African American musician toured with a minstrel show before deciding to specialize in a new form of music known as the blues. In 1912, Handy published his first song, "Memphis Blues," and he followed that in 1914 with "St. Louis Blues," the most recorded song in musical history. Handy became the first black performer to play in New York's Carnegie Hall in 1928.
Shoeless Joe Jackson (1887–1951): One of the most tragic figures in the history of baseball, Jackson rose from humble beginnings in the rural South to become one of baseball's greatest hitters while playing for the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox. Only Babe Ruth was thought to be a better hitter. But Jackson's reputation was forever ruined when he was implicated in the "Black Sox Scandal" in which eight Chicago White Sox players were paid to lose the 1919 World Series.
Mary Pickford (1892–1979): This popular actress, known as "America's Sweetheart," starred in such films as The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917) and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917). The first American actress to achieve international stardom, she was mobbed by fans at public appearances and signed a $1 million contract in 1916. Along with husband Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin, Pickford established the United Artists movie company.
Margaret Sanger (1879–1966): An outspoken proponent of the rights of women, Margaret Higgins Sanger was kept from becoming a doctor because of her gender, but she went on to become a pioneer in birth control practices for women. As a nurse, Sanger was alarmed at how many women saw their health and welfare endangered by their failure to avoid unwanted pregnancies. In the 1910s, she lectured widely about sexual practices, published a magazine called The Woman Rebel, and opened the nation's first birth-control clinic in 1916. She founded the National Birth Control League in 1914 and later was involved in creating the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America. By the 1950s, Sanger was involved in the development of the first birth control pill.
Jim Thorpe (1888–1953): Frequently named as one of the greatest athletes of all time, Native American Jim Thorpe played a variety of sports in his long career. He first came to fame as a college football player at Carlisle University. In 1912, he set a world record in the decathlon at the Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Thorpe then played professional baseball for the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Boston Braves, and professional football for the Canton Bulldogs and the New York Giants.