What it was like living in the U.S. 100 years ago

February 23, 2008 | By | 3 Replies More

I subscribe to Funny Times, a monthly humor publication filled with cartoons and humorous essays.  I consider it great bang for the buck, at a cost of about two dollars per issue.


In the March 2008 edition of Funny Times, Phil Proctor compiled some stunning statistics in his column (he calls his column “Planet Proctor”).  The context of his recent column is that the mother of two of his friends was born 99 years ago.  What was the U.S. like when she was born?  Here’s a sampling:

The average life expectancy in the US was 47 years.  Only 14% of the homes in the US had a bathtub.  Only 8% had a telephone.  A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11.  There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads. . . . . Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. . .  the population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30 . . . More than 95% of all births in the US took place at home.  90% of all US physicians had no college education. . . Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.  Crossword puzzles, canned beer and iced tea hadn’t been invented. . .  the American flag had 45 stars. . . . There was no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. . . There were only about 230 reported murders in the entire US. . . Marijuana, heroin and morphine were all available over the counter at corner drugstores.


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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, History

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    This post reminds me of an email I received years ago about how different the world was for that year's high school graduates, compared to the world older people have seen. For example, kids graduating from high school this year (2008) were born in 1990. That means they have no memory of a world without laptop computers, the Internet, video games, digital music or cell phones. They have no memory of gasoline shortages, cars with carburetors or double-digit inflation. They have no memory of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall or the French franc. For them, the Viet Nam war is as irrelevant as the Trojan war (unless maybe their grandfather fought in Nam and was willing to talk to them about it). They know what megapixels are, but probably couldn't tell you where to find the needle on a record player. They don't know who shot J.R., or even who shot Ronald Reagan. They probably couldn't name one song title by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or Elvis.

  2. phil says:

    Wow, you have no idea what you're talking about. Your statements are far, far too broad. I graduated in 2008, and I know of every one of these things (except what a megapixel is). Maybe I don't have the memory of a world without the aforementioned, but I sure am very aware that these things came into play only in my lifetime..

  3. G. H. Roller says:

    My Grandfather from Russia entered America via N.Y. Ellis Island in 1891. He didn't have a formal education, but learned to speak English from the Irish there & later became a business partner distributing liquor in wood

    barrels. He became a U.S citizen on April 8, 1903 & that paper hangs in my garage in California. He met my Grandmother during President Teddy Roosevelt's administaration & married in 1906. They didn't have motion pictures, HD TV, computers, fax machines, cell phones, Ipods & text messages and yet their love for each other endured for 53 years. Their family values included personal responsibility, respect for your neighbor and service to your customer or city, state & nation. Selfishness & greed were not in their persona or vocabulary. They lived through the Spanish/American war, two World Wars & Korea believing that the United States was the best place to reside, work and raise your family for a better future. I often wonder what they would say seeing the world in turmoil today. They would probably relate about the Great Depression of the 1930s and how the people of America didn't quit & shrink from pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps to become the greatest generation.

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