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What a difference a Century makesPosted Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 11:04 AM
Just one year before we entered the 20th century, the director of the U.S. patent office recommended to President William McKinley that the patent office be abolished, based on the fact that "Everything that can be invented has already been invented." However, it would seem that this director was a bit pessimistic in his predictions, as the 20th century witnessed the greatest onslaught of inventions, discoveries, and innovations in the history of mankind.
One hundred years ago only 14 percent of the homes in the United States had a bathtub, and the average woman washed her hair about once a month, using Borax and egg yolk for shampoo. Only six out of every 100 children graduated from high school, and only 1/5 of the adult population could read or write. Eight percent of homes had a telephone.
In 1909 over 95 % of births in the United States occurred in the home, and in most cases the birth was attended by a mid-wife or a doctor who had never attended college and had very little medical training, other than what he or she had gained from their daily experience. The average life expectancy was only 47 years, and sixty years of age was considered extremely old.
The average wage in 1909 was 22 cents per hour, and the average worker had an annual income of about $400.00 per year. Some professionals such as doctors, veterinarians, and mechanical engineers made $2000.00 to $5000.00 per year.
In the early part of the 20th century food products such as coffee, sugar, rice, lard, and beans were shipped to stores in wooden barrels or boxes. The store clerk would weigh you up a 2-pound paper bag of coffee for 30 cents. Today you pay $7.00 for 34.5 ounces of coffee, and that 4-pound bag of sugar you buy today for $2.50 could have been bought for 16 cents in 1909. There was no cooking oil, so everyone used lard and when lard was needed you would have to take your lard bucket with you when you went to the store. If you needed beans, the clerk would weigh you up the amount you wanted, after he got the sleeping cat out of the barrel.
The kerosene lamp and lantern furnished the light for all the homes out in the country, and since this kerosene came to the store in 50-gallon barrels, every customer had a can, which was brought along when kerosene was needed.
As we entered the 20th century the automobile was just making its debut. Even in 1909 one hundred years ago, there were only 8000 of them in the United States. Ford only made 743 cars that year. There were only 144 miles of paved roads to drive on, and 10 miles per hour was the speed limit in most of the towns.
Many families did their shopping for items other than groceries from the Sears Roebuck catalogue, which boldly stated that they were, "The cheapest supply house on earth." There you could buy a good pair of shoes for $2.00, a man's three-piece cashmere suit for $6.00, or a ladies full-length dress for $2.35. A good bicycle would cost about $9.00. You could buy a shotgun for $5.00, and you could get a bottle of "Nerve and Brain pills" for 60 cents. Sears sent out a new catalogue about twice a year and the old one would be relegated to the two-holer out house, as toilet paper was an unknown item out in the country at that time
We have had a lot of changes during the past 100 years, and I have been here 95% of that time. In 1926, at age 12, I was big enough to help my father in the farm operation. Walking behind a 12" breaking plow pulled by a team of horses, I could turn two acres a day. At age 85 I was driving an air-conditioned tractor, covering 100 acres a day. At harvest time, my father and I could pick about 100 bushel of corn in a day's time. Today my two grandsons can harvest 800 bushels per hour.
I heard the first feeble voices of radio, and listened, as it became instant communication to all parts of the world and outer space. I witnessed the arrival of the miracle -- television - and watched with awe its first pictures, which was just about like looking through a dirty window to the outside, where people were dancing in a snowstorm.
Yes, we have witnessed a lot of changes during the past 100 years, and now I wonder - could a careful study of these innovations of the past and the conditions that exist today be used as a guide in helping us make more intelligent economic, cultural, and political decisions that will better serve our society in the future?
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Paul Corbin is a 98-year-old historian, humorist, and amateur archeologist from Advance, Mo. He grew up in the Greenbrier area west of Advance, where he attended Stepp School on the banks of Cato Slough and the Castor River, important waterways throughout his life. In an age when many area residents did not go to high school, the young Corbin made the decision to walk the five miles to Zalma, graduating in 1933. Throughout his life, he was an enterprising businessman, selling Watkins products from house to house throughout a large area - and later opening a variety store in Advance. He and his wife Geneva traveled throughout the United States, even following the route that the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled. His knowledge of Native American culture is extensive, and he has donated a sizeable collection of his artifacts to the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center and the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History in Marble Hill. Throughout the years, he has submitted articles to TBY, the North Stoddard Countian, the Ozark Mountaineer, and several other Missouri publications. He has also written two books - "Reflections in Missouri Mud," and "Fragments of my Feeble Mind." The first one is out of print.