Archive for February, 2012

When I’d drive my Grandfather down Buncombe Road in Greenville, SC he would reminisce about how much had things had changed in his lifetime. I loved to hear him talk about the roads through there and how different they were today. When he was a little boy growing up they were still mainly dirt roads. I wish now that I’d had the foresight to right down or record those memoires, but alas they’re lost.

Old Dirt Road

Today we are so accustomed to paved roads that are interconnected with one another. A hundred years ago that was not the case. Some of the larger cities did have paved roads but “less than ten percent of rural roads had any kind of improved surface.”

So what were the roads made of a hundred years ago? They were made of gravel, mud, brick, shells and oil. Imagine trying to travel when there had been a lot of rain and becoming stuck in the deep, red mud. Yuck! What a mess.

Gravel Road

Some medium to large systems had trolleys to take you from one destination to another. If you wanted to travel to another city or cross country the train was the best source at that time.

In the summer of 1919, the United States military decided to take a convoy across country from Washington, DC to San Francisco. One of the reasons was to apparently “highlight the inadequacy of the nation’s roads.” Apparently they were only able to travel six miles an hour and it took them sixty-two days to reach their destination.

Horse pull car out that's been stuck

Most roads were not paved until the 1930s and the interstate system did not begin construction until 1956.

So the next time the road is a little bumpy, we have to swerve to avoid a pothole or we’re on a private gravel road let’s remember how much we have to be thankful for. At least we don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the mud while it’s raining or traveling six miles an hour.

Stuck in the Mud

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Schools were a lot different in 1912 than today. In the rural areas there was still only one teacher many times that taught all of the grades in a single room building. In larger areas a student may have a teacher for two or three grades before moving on to another teacher for the couple of grades.

Teachers were a lot stricter than they are today. It was common practice for mischievous student to be paddled, stand in the corner, have additional assignments or stay after school to write on the board.

Single Room School

Today we hear a lot about extra curriculum activities. Things such as art, music and dance were learned in the home or from a neighbor.

Children often enjoyed plenty of exercise, but not as a physical education class. From a very young age they were assigned chores. In rural areas, farming and mill {textile work} were very prevalent. Children often left school to help the family earn a living from a young age.

Early Classroom

My great-grandmother only had a fifth grade education. She came from a large family, and went to work in the mill to help support them. This was in the days before there were child labor laws, although President Taft did pass the Children’s Bureau Law in 1912.

Middle and upper classes often stayed in school longer than their counterparts. It was only the brightest and most ambitious of students that continued on to college.

One Room School in 1915

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I found some facts about 1910-1920 that are very interesting. They give us a look back to what life was like 100 years ago.

FACTS about 1910-1920
• Population: 92,407,000
• Life Expectancy: Male 48.4 Female: 51.8
• Average Salary $750 / year
• The Ziegfeld girls earns $75/week.
• Unemployed 2,150,000
• National Debt: $1.15 billion
• Union Membership: 2.1 million Strikes 1,204
• Attendance: Movies 30 million per week
• Lynchings: 76
• Divorce: 1/1000
• Vacation: 12 day cruise $60
• Whiskey $3.50 / gallon, Milk $.32 / gallon
• Speeds make automobile safety an issue
• 25,000 performers tour 4,000 U.S. theaters

A Ziegfeld Girl

How does this compare with life today?
•• Population: 312,780,968 in the United States
• Life Expectancy: Male 75.6; Female: 80.8
• Average Salary $50, 233 / year
• Movie star earns $1.5 to $3million {depends on many variables}
• Unemployed 8.3%
• National Debt: over $15 trillion
• Attendance: Movies 1470 million per week
• Divorce: 41.8%
• Vacation: 12 day cruise $4-15k {depends on many variables}
• Gas $3.89 / gallon, Milk $3.39 / gallon

*Statistics are According to the United States Census Bureau

What changes are for the better? What changes are for the worse?

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We recently talked about answering the call of nature a century ago. However, there was much more to tending to these grooming habits than just going. Let’s take a quick look:

1. Toilet paper as we know it today did not exist. So what did they use? This is where the ultimate bathroom reading material began. Magazine and newspapers were kept nearby to clean up with once finished. I’ve often heard about family members using the Sears Catalogue for such needs. The Farmer’s Almanac actually punched a hole in it. This was allow it to be hung up in the outhouse for such needs.

Sears Catalogue

2. Some of the very poor may have kept strips of cloth to use. Unfortunately, these items would later have to be cleaned and sanitized for reuse. The really poor may have had nothing more than there hand to use. I recently read that in India the left hand was used, but in Africa the white hand. This is because the opposite hand was used for greeting others. Imagine how offended the other person would become if you offered the wrong hand.

3. Many other items were used such as grass, water, moss, hay, seashells, wood shavings, and a sponge. These were varied based on the person, region they lived, and economic status to name just a few. For example, in Hawaii they used coconut husks.

You could always use a handful of this moss

4. The toilet could not just be flushed, so someone had to clean these systems out. A hole had to be dug, someone had to collect the waste, or a way had to be found to dispose of the remains. These are just a few ways people of the past took care of this issue. My grandmother remembers the man that came around to “collect” the bucket that was used as the septic system.

5. What about the smell? My grandmother has told me that they used lime. When leaving the outhouse a person would sprinkle a scoop of lime over the contents. I’d think that if it did not have to be used again right away, keeping the door open might help with the smell.

Lime Powder

Another reminder of how much we have to be thankful for and the way times have changed. What would you have used for cleaning? How about for the smell?

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We’re spoiled today. We’re use to indoor plumbing. If the bathroom is not to our liking, we complain and wait until we find the next one. In 1912, indoor plumbing was almost completely unheard of.

So how did they take care of their personal needs?

1. Water closets—these were a primitive version of the modern day bathroom. Most only had a toilet. They did not flush and someone would have to empty the chamber on a regular basis to keep it from smelling. How would you like that job?

2. Outhouse—these were still very common, especially upon the poor. Regardless of the time of day or the weather when nature called, out to the outhouse you’d trod. Outhouses could have one hole or two holes. It was like stepping into a large cabinet or closet to do your business. My grandmother remembers going out to the outhouse until sometime in her teen years, around the beginning of WWII. She shared with me that a man would come around each week and empty the cans that held the waste.


Two holer outhouse

3. Chamber pot—a chamber pot was often a bowl or pot that was used. It was a lot easier to have on hand in the middle of the night or on a cold, winter day. These had to be emptied on a regular basis. My mother remembers her grandmother keeping one by her bedside in the mid-20th Century. Today they have been redesigned as a bed pan for the ill and invalids.

Chamber Pot

4. Slop jar—used very similarly to the chamber pot. It was just a large jar instead.

Slop Jar

So the next time nature calls, remember how much you have to be thankful for that you don’t have to run outside in the snow or use a bowl to later empty.

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Today, it is easy to get in our cars and go wherever we want. Depending on traffic and our destination we can often be there within minutes to hours. A century ago only the very rich had a vehicle. If you lived in a rural area, you were more likely to walk or take a horse and buggy into town. Let’s take a look at some of the modes of transportation commonly used a century ago.

1. Walking-—it was very common for people to walk. It cost nothing and you just need to go {as long as you’re physically able}. Children walked to school, mother’s walked to the store and to visit with neighbors. Towns were often in clusters and the people lived close by. If you lived in town you didn’t have far to go, and many of those that lived on the outskirts of town were only a mile or two away.

John Jacob Astor walking with his dog

2. Horse and buggy-—horse and buggy were still one of the common forms of transportation. A man could easily saddle up and head to town. If he was taking the family with him, he would hitch the horses to a buggy. If you wanted to visit a nearby town or haul materials nearby, the horse and buggy was the perfect means of transportation.

old time Horse and Buggy

3. Bicycles—-bicycles were also another form of transportation that was available at this time. You most likely found them more in large cities. In the smaller, Southern towns where many worked in the mills they were not able to afford a bicycle.

1912 bicycle

4. Cars—-1912 was the last year the high-wheel motor buggy was in it’s heyday. It resembled the horse and buggy of the previous century. It was quickly replaced by the Ford Model T. These early vehicles had a pedal based control system. Ford produced 22% of the cars during this decade, with a rate of 26,000 per month. Only the rich were usually able to afford to own a vehicle of their own.

1912 Car

5. Ships—-ships were the common way to travel across the ocean. The most popular ship of 1912, was the Titanic. Many of the aristocrats were using it to return home from their travels abroad in Europe. However, most of those in third class were emigrating to the United States or Canada to start over and have a new life. Times were often hard in their homeland and they longed to make a better life for themselves and their children. The Titanic and her sister ship, Olympic, were the top of the line in luxury ships. Some said the accommodations in third class were as nice as second class and even first class on other ships. Ship travel was popular for both the traveling rich and the poor emigrant looking to improve his/her circumstances.

Titanic: Most Famous Ship of 1912

6. Railroad—-by the turn of the twentieth century the railroad had spread across the country. Many used this as a means of transportation across the country. My great-grandfather used it to move his growing family from Tennessee to South Carolina in 1905. For many years he used it to travel back and forth to visit with family. On one such trip he was talking with the man sitting beside him, only to discover the man was his brother he’d not seen in over thirty years. His brother came out each year after this to visit by using the railway.

Old Timey Train

We take the ease of transportation for granted today. Many of these modes were in their infancy a century ago. Other current standard modes, such as flying, were only accomplished by the birds. Some of these means of transportation have changed over the last decade. Today we walk, horseback ride and bike for exercise and enjoyment. A cruise or railroad journey are a luxury we indulge ourselves with. The horse and buggy are a thing of the past. If things have changed this much in the past century, what will transportation be like 100 years from now?

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