My World in 1907
By James E. McEldowney
A wise man once said. "There is nothing new under the sun."
(Ecclesiastes 1:9) Toward the close of the last century a noted
scientist announced that science had achieved all that was
possible, there would be nothing more new. I wish he were here to
read this list of new things. I hadn't thought much about this
before I had a very unusual experience recently.
My wife, Jeanne and my two daughters, Betty Ann and Barbara,
had a birthday party for me on my 90th birthday. A very sweet one
year old child, my wife's granddaughter, came with her parents. It
was she who started me thinking, for as I watched her I was amazed
to realized that I am 89 years older than she. What will her world
be like in 90 years? Were the men of old right? or will the
changes that have occurred during my lifetime continue during hers?
I was telling this to a small group the other day and one of
the ladies spoke up and said, "Well I hope her world will be lots
better than ours." If she is not satisfied with today's world,
what would she have thought about my world, 90 years ago? And what
was that world like? What changes have there been during my
lifetime? I was amazed when I began to list the changes that have
come during those years and I know that my list is not nearly
As you read my list you will realize that our present day is
not all that bad. And if all these things have happened in my 90
years, what will likely happen in the next 90 years. What will her
world be like? Stretch your imagination!
Here is what I might call a beginning list: In 1907, the year I was born, there were hardly any motor
cars. Travel was by horse and buggy, stage coach, or train. What
cars there were were hand-cranked and more like buggies. They had
none of these things: automatic shift, balloon tires, shock
absorbers, computerized electrical controls, door locking devices,
safety glass, satisfactory lights, nor were they streamlined.
There were no motorcycles, scooters, golf carts, etc.
There were few trucks, and those were likely small and had
solid rubber tires. Certainly no 18 wheelers or heavy moving
There were no paved roads, only dirt roads. The roads were
not marked to make two or more lanes as they are today. There were
no dual highways, interstate networks, cloverleaf intersections,
large bridges, traffic lights, stop signs, yield signs, no-passing
There were no gas stations, car maintenance garages. Gas was
pumped by hand, no provision was made for oil change, water, air,
and no self service.
Trains were simple affairs pulled by steam engines. Diesel
trains like the Zephyrs came later. No pullman cars, no dining
cars, no subways. Electric lights and heating in trains came
In big cities there were horse drawn street cars. Electric
powered street cars came later, then motorized street cars.
The Wright brothers had flown an airplane but planes were not
for commercial use until later. In 1907 there were no airports,
runways, passenger lounges, no security devices, no baggage
handling, stewardesses, meals or snacks. No jet engines or super
jet planes. No helicopters.
There were no radios, no newscasts, no weather reports.
There was no television, black and white or colored, no
programs, no soap operas, no children's programs, no advertising.
There was only the local store, no chain stores, super
markets, malls, no extensive packaging.
There were no credit cards and banking was limited.
There were no professional sports for football, basketball,
soccer, and no electronic game rooms.
When pictures were to be taken it was by a photographer with
his big camera. There were no hand held cameras such as the box
camera, the folding camera, the 35mm camera. No amateur movie
cameras, either 8mm. or 16mm. No telephoto lenses, zoom lenses,
automatic light and film speed control, no cameras with
Early pictures were taken on glass plates. Film was soon to
be introduced, first black and white of different sizes, then
color, both for slides and for pictures. Built-in flash and high
speed films were later developments.
Only some larger towns had picture theaters. There were no
home projectors for either silent or sound film.
There were no tape recorders, using either wire or tape.
Nor were there any video cameras, video cassettes, or video
A few homes had hand cranked record player, some records were
on cylinders, some with scratchy flat discs. In time there was
much improvement in recording and playback. In 1907 there were no
home entertainment centers, amplifiers, speakers, nor were there
car radios or car tape players.
In the kitchen there were no electric stoves, no refrigerators
- only ice boxes, toasters, mixers, or other electrical gadgets.
Indoor toilets and bathrooms were largely unknown.
There were a few hand-cranked telephones and party lines. We
knew nothing of direct dialing, phone networks, wireless phones,
Farmers had no gasoline tractors and only primitive equipment
for preparing the soil, planting. cultivating, harvesting, storing.
Such things as fertilizers, pest controls, hybrid corn, terraced
hillsides came during my lifetime.
There were almost no electric gadgets. No garage door
openers, no air conditioners, freezers, computers, calculators,
solar energy, wind energy.
There were no vacuum cleaners, power mowers, laundry marts,
or improved hand tools.
There were no plastics or synthetic cloth, synthetic rope,
thread, and other materials. Zippers were a later invention.
The handicapped were in difficulties, no electronic hearing
aids, no wheelchairs, walkers, plastic glasses, anti-biotics,
medicines sold over the counter. No specialized hospital care.
It was long before Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid,
nursing homes, assisted living homes, retirement communities, the
AARP, other Senior Citizen's organizations, social service
No women's lib., no mini skirts, bobbed hair, no long pants
for boys. No child labor laws nor 40 hr. week for adults.
There was little if any effort to control ethnic, racial,
religious discrimination. No school bussing, integration, racial
balance, school meals.
There were no McDonalds or other such eateries. No mobile
homes, or motor courts.
Little attention was given to physical exercise. There was
hardly any physical exercise equipment. Professional body and hair
care preparations were not on the market.
There were no frozen foods, home freezers or other cold
storage, ice cream parlors, ice cream cones, candy bars, junk food,
There were no home swimming pools and little home playground
equipment, except what was hand made.
There were no vacation spots for skiing, health spas, camping,
etc. Nor were there RVs and RV camping sites.
The drug problem was unknown during most of my youth and
The space program, walking on the moon, the Hubble telescope,
much information about outer space came during my life-time.
We were largely ignorant about pollution and environmental
concerns. Nor did we know tobacco was addictive and cancer
As a result of four wars during my life the military equipment
was greatly changed. Tanks, bombs, missals, automatic weapons,
radar, submarines, came into use. Recently the military has been
employed in humanitarian services.
Some Things That Happened During My Lifetime
There was an experiment with prohibition.
Chautauqua programs came to small communities during the
Life was more family oriented, fewer women worked outside the
There was a general sense of safety in the home, market place
and on the streets day and night.
Community life centered around the school and churches.
Week ends were not commercialized but were family oriented.
Amusements were more supervised and for each neighborhood.
Children worked and learned the value of money.
Books were a source of enjoyment and instruction.
There were no gangs in my boyhood, some clubs, boy scouts,
sports teams, church activities, etc.
There was music in the home and many communities had choruses
as well as church choirs. Youth orchestras were encouraged.
Not until 1915 did my family have a car. Until then horses
and buggy provided transportation.
My brother made the first radio in Kirkman, Iowa in 1921. It
was a novelty. Some citizens came to listen to programs. Morris
put the ear phone to the end of a victorola horn so they could hear
Store bought clothes were an excepting. Mother made all our
clothes for a number of years, out of suiting that was sent in the
"missionary barrel" which came to us, because my father was a home
My father had been denied a musical education but he
encouraged all his children to learn to play. We three boys had
keen competition on the piano. We played trios together.
I bought my first cornet from money I earned when I was nine.
Two years later I bought a better cornet.
My father paid for piano lessons for all of us children. When
we took up other instruments we paid for the lessons with money we
Children in the community played games together in the summer
and coasted together in the winter.
At first we used oil lamps in our home and in the church.
One home I lived in as late as 1919 had no electricity. We had no
inside bathroom and toilet until I was a senior in high school.
The outside toilet was called a privy. It sufficed, although
barely when the temperature was below freezing. Baths were taken
in a galvanized tub in front of the kitchen stove.
We thought we were having the time of our lives and took
advantage of improvements as they came along.
So I wonder what the next 90 years will be like. From what
has happened in the past decade, I can only imagine that there will
be some amazing things happen in the future. I wish I could be
here to see them. Jeanne's granddaughter will get to enjoy them
and I hope they will challenger her and help her to live a happy
and eventful life. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]
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