We’ve often hear our parents and grandparents tell us what it was like in the good old days, which for them were their golden years. How they walked to school through four-feet of snow, run to visit the outdoor toilet in freezing temperatures, all stand around the furnace-vent from the basement or the wood-burning stove in the kitchen or fireplace in the living room. How little food they had to eat and the little money they had to spend. But they turned out alright! Sounds like I’m talking about myself!

The thought crossed my mind, I wonder what it was like in the USA 100 years ago. Here’s a taste of what was going on in March of 1919.

World War I was over and most Americans were eager for peace and security; but, 1919 would prove to be anything but. Revolution and unrest ran rampant across Europe and North America, the Flu Pandemic continued from the prior year with a third brutal wave in the Spring; terrorist bombings rocked seven U.S. cities in June; the first of a series of “Red Scares”1 began when the government passed an act that blacklisted anyone thought to be involved with communism; race riots rocked the nation, and hundreds of workers went on strike across the country. The adoption of constitutional amendments giving women the right to vote and establishing Prohibition denoted the high-water mark of the moral impulse of the Progressive era.

Voters grew disillusioned during President Woodrow Wilson’s years, with many feeling the President and the Progressive Democrats went too far with their liberal ideas. The terrorist bombings further alienated people from the government because war seemed to do more to feed these liberal ideas as citizens questioned the reasons and results of the conflict.

In 1920, America elected Warren Harding with over 60% of the vote and Progressive Democrat candidates suffered for Wilson’s sins and the events from 1919. Many historians today summarize 1919 as rivaling 1968 as the worst year in twentieth-century American history. But even more sinister, the Great Depression would begin with the Wall Street Stock Market crash in October 1929 and last until October 29, 1939

Here’s our look at some US statistics for 1919:

President: Woodrow Wilson
Vice President: Thomas R. Marshall
Population: 104,514,000 (Today it’s 325,700,000)

Federal spending: $18.49 billion (Today it’s $4.5 trillion)
Consumer Price Index: 17.3 (Today it’s 251.7)
Unemployment: 1.4% (Today it’s 4.0%)

Year in General:

After moving from its southern rural roots, jazz establishes Chicago as its capital. The city will become home to such jazz greats as trumpeter Louis Armstrong and pianist Jelly Roll Morton.

185,440 people die in the third wave of the Flu Pandemic.

Dial telephones are introduced by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. The first rotary dial telephones in the Bell System are installed in Norfolk, Virginia.

Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity is confirmed when the Royal Astronomical Society sees the predicted effect during a solar eclipse.

Eighty-three African-Americans are lynched by southern Democrats – many of them soldiers returning home from World War I. At the same time, the Ku Klux Klan became the military wing of the Democrat Party and began operating out of 27 states.

The pamphlet, Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States: 1898-1918 is published by the NAACP. The report is used to appeal to lawmakers to end the social, political, and economic terrorism associated with lynching.

The pop-up toaster, short wave radios, and arc welders were invented in the US in 1919.

The most popular baby names for boys were John, William, James, Robert, and Charles. For girls, Mary, Helen, Dorothy, Margaret, and Ruth.

What did it cost?

1 lb of Bacon, $0.52

1 lb Beef Rib Roast $0.39

1 lb Loaf of Bread $0.12

1 lb of Butter $0.55

1 Head of Cabbage $0.02

1 lb of Cheese $0.35

2 lb Chicken $0.72

1 lb of Coffee $0.42

1 Dozen Eggs $0.47

5 lbs Flour $0.41

1 Gallon of Milk $0.66

5 lbs Sugar $0.97

5 lb Watermelon $0.10

1 Gallon of Gas $0.25

(Today’s costs adjusted for inflation)

Two bedroom room cottage $1,213.00 ($16,124 today)

Brand New Chevrolet Touring Car $1,110.00 ($14,755 today)

First Frigidaire self-contained refrigerator $775.00 (over $10,300 today)

Vacuum cleaner with all attachments $64.00 ($864.00 today)

Basic Radio $75.00 ($997 today), Custom built radio $495.00 ($6,580 today)

Temporary Federal Income Tax initiated just two years earlier.

Homeowners Insurance did not exist

$0.25 in 1919 at the grocery store would buy what you pay $3.32 for today.

But here’s the reality: average weekly earnings were $13.55 ($180.00 today)

We can thank God for bringing our grandparents and parents through those early days, but we need to ask Him for help because some of them are still the same and growing worse. There’s no sense in wishing for things to return to the way they used to be. Today’s circumstances are what we’ve been given to deal with, but God has all the tools available to help us navigate around life’s pitfalls and barriers. Take what is and make it what God wants it to be. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

Red Scares began when Vladimir Lenin starts a revolution in Russia that changes the Russian government from monarchy to communism. As a result, the U.S. passed an act that would blacklist anyone that had been thought to be involved with communism.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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