People sometimes think about the so-called “good old days.” But were they all that good? We go to the store or auto dealership these days and are aghast at the prices, and filling one’s tank with gasoline almost requires a mortgage on the house.
So, let’s take a look backward.
About 100 years ago, the average life expectancy for men was 47 years. Today, it’s around 80, almost as long as women, who top out at around 86, so we’re catching up.
If you wanted fuel for your car, you got it at a drug store and, by the way, the average price of a car was $941. Of course, the average wage was 22 cents an hour and the average worker in the U.S. made between $200 and $400 a year, still not enough to buy one of the cars. A dentist made around $2,500 annually; a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000; and a mechanical engineer could earn about $5,000 per year.
The speed limit in many cities was 10 miles per hour; 14 percent of homes had bathtubs and eight percent had a telephone. There were about 8,000 cars traveling over 144 miles of paved roads.
If you went to a medical doctor, chances were only about 10 percent that he or she had a college education. Most of them went, instead, to medical schools, many of which were considered substandard by the public and the media.
You could buy a dozen eggs for 14 cents; coffee for 15 cents a pound and women, rather than using the shampoos that exist today washed their hair with egg yolks or Borax.
Canada had a law against poor people entering the country for any reason and the five leading causes of death were pneumonia and influenza; tuberculosis; diarrhea; heart disease; and stroke, in that order.
The American Flag grew to 48 stars with the addition of New Mexico and Arizona in 1912; Woodrow Wilson was elected president, succeeding William Howard Taft and China was officially proclaimed a republic.
The automobile industry produced 356,000 cars and 22,000 trucks, with Ford manufacturing 78,440 followed by Willlys-Overland with 28,572.
We didn’t have Mother’s Day or Father’s Day and there were 30 people living in Las Vegas. There were no crossword puzzles, canned beer or iced tea because they hadn’t been invented yet and two of every 10 adults couldn’t read or write. Only about 6 percent of Americans had graduated from high school.
Note to potheads: If you wanted marijuana, morphine or heroin, they were available over the counter at your local drug store and pharmacists extolled the virtues of heroin by saying, “It clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”
There were only about 230 murders in the entire country in 1912.
Our federal budget totaled $690 million; unemployment was 4.6 percent and the population of the U.S. was 95.3 million. A new home’s median price was $2,750 and gasoline was seven cents a gallon. It was $3.76.9 at Milton when this column was written. A pound of bacon was 24 cents, bread was a nickel a loaf; butter was 37 cents a pound and a quart of milk was nine cents. Steak was 23 cents a pound, about an hour’s wages.
I am fascinated by the prices of the early 20th Century compared to what we pay today, but we also have to bear in mind that, despite the much higher cost of things today we still have more buying power. For example, that steak for 24 cents a pound that cost about an hour’s wages now costs about $5.99 per pound, but most people could buy two pounds with what they earn in 60 minutes.
One thing that wasn’t around in those days is news like the following from the Brunswick Press:
The headline is, “Purse stolen from woman at residence”
The story is, “A woman said she noticed her purse missing from her car just before 5 p.m. Sunday. The car was parked at her residence on Hornet Drive. The woman said the car had been locked, and the purse was in the back seat.
“The purse was valued at $400, her wallet was valued at $200 and she said there was $800 cash in the purse, according to the police report.
“Also missing were the woman’s food stamps.”
Don’t you just love it?
Maybe there were “good old days.”
Harold Prentiss is retired as managing editor of the Standard Journal.