The Twentieth Century: A Most Amazing Period
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Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009
by Joel Hendon
My father was born in 1890, just a decade before the twentieth century began. He died on his sixtieth birthday in 1950, so his years witnessed the first half of the century. Much had occurred in those first fitfty years of the century. Although the telegraph was introduced in the mid nineteenth century, it actually did not become very efficient or effective until the early 1900's when automatic transmission was developed. Alexander Graham Bell had created the first telephone to transmit voice electrically, the first intelligible speech made from one room to another on March 10, 1876. It was also beginning to be utilized more and more but it would be a number of years before rural areas would be able to see much use of it.
Enter the advent of Henry Ford who built the Model T Ford beginning in 1908 and through 1927. He introduced the assembly line production procedure and was able to build autos faster and cheaper while maintaining quality. Even my father bought a 1927 model which he owned when I was born in 1930. We were the only ones in several miles who owned a car. My father needed one badly because he was a carpenter and brick mason by trade which meant he often had to work some distance from home. The roads where we lived at the time of my earliest memories were unbelievable. Red clay most of the way and very narrow with ruts down the middle made by iron rimmed wagon wheels and very treacherous when wet. They were unfit for driving a rubber tired automobile over, but it was all there was so, necessary. I can recall being with my Dad when we would meet a wagon drawn by two mules or horses. The driver of the wagon would have to pull as far over onto the edge of the drainage ditch, while Dad would chug slowly by to keep from sliding into the opposite ditch and in the meantime trying not to frighten the skiddish horses.
Industrial manufacturing was just beginning to flourish, especially in the North and Northeast. Not much was doing in the South other than farming and related work. Beginning in about 1930, textile mills began to settle into the South and often a sizable town would result just from the one single mill. As the deep depression began to ease, many things started to develop. The Rural Electric Association (REA) under governmental influence assisted the electrical producers to build electric lines through most of the rural areas. I can recall this momentous occasion even though I was severn years old. Men came through digging holes for the creosoted poles, placed them in the holes and left. I could not wait for them to get the lines up. After a couple of weeks here they came with a mule pulling a large copper cable and after pulling three such wires through, a crew came with their spikes on, climbed the poles and attached the wires. My dad had already wired our home for overhead lights and even run wires to the barn for lights there. All we had to begin with were lights and a new radio. Dad was an achiever and soon bought us an electric water pump which he installed to put water into the house from our spring some 60 yards away.
Approximately one year later, again with government funding, there came a large crew of workers and equipment widening and straightening our narrow dirt road. When the grading was all complete, they hauled loads of gravel and coated the road well, virtually eliminated slick and muddy areas. They had also built concrete bridges over the streams and creeks, some of which had not had a bridge at all but had to be driven across through the shallow creek, except when it rained hard, then you had to wait until the flow subsided. Others had flimsy and dangerous wooden bridges.
The preceding information only touches the surface of the near primitive conditions which prevailed at the start of the twentieth century. Outdoor toilets were the order of the day in most areas. Laundry was done using a large black pot in which the heavy dirty work clothes were boiled in strong soap. Some made their own lye soap from fat and lye. We bought our soap but it was the powerful Octagon brand, a brown strong soap with cleaning power. Those that were boiled inthe strong soap solution were then taken, along with the lighter flimsier clothing and washed in a tub with a ribbed rub-board, using the same strong soap. Then rinsed through two tubs of clear water and hung out to dry.
1941 brough Pearl Harbor and our participation in World War 2. Not a lot happened back home other than women and younger children had to take up the slack for the men who went to war. My four older brothers all went. I thought I was home free because I was too young. I was fifteen when the war ended, but shortly afterward, came the Korean war and they got me.
But after the big war, the money was flowing again, much progress had been mad in manufacturing techniques and things began to prosper. When I was seventeen, my Dad and I built a new home with an indoor bathroom, a first in our community, but not nearly the last. Just as we finished out new home in 1949, my Dad became ill and was diagnosed with leukemia. He died on his birthday in 1950. One year later I was drafted into the army and served two years. It is amazing at the amount of progress that was made, at least here in the deep south from 1945 to 1955. The roads were paved almost everywhere. Phones were almost everywhere. Everyone owned cars by then. I bought a five year old Ford myself when I came out of the army in 1953.
Televisions were still virtually unheard of but soon began to show up even though the reception was outrageous. The first one I was able to actually watch, was solid snow with shadows moving about and some talking which I could not understand for the frying sound. They were very expensive then also. I thought at that time, I'd never sink any money into such a ridiculous machine.
Most of you are aware of what has happened since about 1960. And even if you aren't it is far too much to try and discuss in one article. I married in 1955, still there were no huge Interstate Highways at that time. A very, very limited amount of 4 lane roads with exception of in and around large metropolitan areas. President Dwight Eisenhower instituted the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and it took several years for the system we now have to come into being. Then began the computer age, then the internet age, great accomplishments in air travel, the space travel, and on and on. I don't believe there was ever a hundred years that so much progress was made from primitive to what we have now, and I doubt there will ever be another.
I certainly won't be around to see another century, but I don't believe I would want to if I had the choice. I'm eternally grateful to our heavenly Father that he let me see all of this.
This Article has been viewed 942 times. (Not updated in real-time.)Top-level comments on this article: (4 total)
Nice article Joel--a walk down memory lane regarding how far we have come. Also,thanks for letting us get to know your dad a bit.SteveThanks for reading and commenting Steve. I reminisce a lot, seemingly more and more as years pass by.
Great article Joel!While I wasn't around for the 1st half, much of what you described I've heard from my father who was born in 1922. I could see you and your dad in your car and it made me think of my dad telling me that in those days, just driving to the shore -- about an hour away -- could not be accomplished without something breaking down on the car -- could have been tires.Thanks for sharing,NancyHi Nancy, thanks for commenting. The older cars were not nearly as reliable as they are today (and they still have plenty of problems) but those old ones were so simply built, a mechanically inclined prson could repair just about anything that broke. Hard times, good days.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane - I remember watching the train go by behind our house and waving at the soldiers on that train going off to Korea in 1950 as a 4 year old! Wow.... MarijoHi Marijo, thanks for commenting. You were only 4? You are just a girl. I was twenty that year. I was the one who won that war ;o) Doesn't that picture look like a really, really tough guy? I was a coward. I prayed every day that I would not have to kill anyone, and even more fervently that no one would have to kill me. The Lord answered that prayer.
Thanks for the information, Joel. As always, I enjoyed the read. Danny is currently reading a biography on Nikola Tesla. When he is done, I will be reading. It is amazing, all the inventions!» left by Joel Hendon 3 years 226 days ago.
Hi Lorrie, thanks a lot for reading and commenting. I hate to be really dumb, but I don't even know who Nikola Tesla is/was. I'm from Alabama. When I was a lad, on up to about 40, I read almost incessantly, but since that time, I have mostly spent my time reading the bible, Jewish and biblical history. So, I'm behind on modern or contemporary writing.