The Good Old Days
Ah, the good old days! Before common items had even been imagined.
If you watch the news at the close of the year (or decade or century) you'll find reviews highlighting developments or significant events. I suppose its no surprise that folks have been looking back in like manner for ages!
In 1895, an unidentified author published a conversational list of advancements achieved over the past 100 years. The following is a careful transcription of a newspaper article highlighting marvelous changes wrought in the nineteenth century. Original source: Omaha Daily Bee of Omaha, Nebraska, dated July 14, 1895.
Nineteenth Century Advancements, Viewed from 1895
DAYS OF OUR GRANDFATHERS
"Say Not that the Former Times Were Far Better Than These."
HERE IS EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY
How the Daddies Managed to Live Without the Conveniences of Our Day--The Marvelous Changes Wrought in a Single Century.
It is common with some men, especially those advanced in life, to complain of the present and to contrast it with "the good old times," to the advantage of the latter. The habit of decrying the age in which we live is old; even in the days of Cicero there were croakers who lamented the departure of ancient times and customs, and it may be, so common is this habit to people advanced in years, that even Adam in his old age grumbled to Eve about how the times were changing, and that the world was different from what it was when he and the mother of mankind were young. But nothing is more certain than that the world is wiser, better, happier today than ever before. So rapid has been its progress in all directions that in comparison, the people of even a century ago were savages. It is difficult for us, says the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, accustomed as we are to the conveniences and comforts of modern life, to understand how our grandfathers could have lived without them. The world has moved so fast and gone so far that many things now deemed indispensable and within the means of the poorest, were then regarded as luxuries obtainable only the very wealthy; while by far the greater portion of appliances in everyday use were then absolutely unknown. Their day had not then come. A glance into any history of discoveries and inventions shows that the world has made more progress in the last 100 years than the preceding ten centuries. (emphasis added)
A hundred years ago there was not a mile of railroad track, not a locomotive, not a railroad car, not a railroad invention, not a telegraph line, not a phonograph, not a typewriter, not even an effective system of shorthand in the world. The steamboat was an experiment whose success was greatly doubted; steam engines were looked upon with grave suspicion. In England the common people regarded Watt as a necromancer; in America there were a few steam engines which had been brought from the old country, but not much was thought of their working power. A hundred years ago there was not an accordion nor an apple-parer in existence. Balloons were in their infancy, blast furnaces unknown. There was not a gas pipe, not a gas jet in the world, nor even an Argand lamp, and coal oil, procured in very small quantities, was sold in little vials as a specific for rheumatism. The poor used a "rush" light, made by dipping a dried rush into the most convenient sort of fat or grease; the middle classes used candles of tallow; the rich burned sperm or wax. Chinaware was not in common use; a few years before 1790 a factory was set up by Wedgewood, and was not at that time a success. The circular saw was in the hands of its inventor. The farmer shelled corn by hand and with the assistance of a cob. Whitney was busy with the idea of a cotton gin, which he was completing in 1793. The features of the people were preserved for future generations by means of oil paintings or crayon portraits, for daguerreotypes and photographs were unknown.
MINES AND LETTERS.
Mines were subject to constant danger from explosions, for there were no safety lamps. People left one page of letter paper blank, folded it over the rest, and sealed it with wax, for envelopes were not made. Letters were not stamped; postage was paid at the time; the letter paper was unruled [sic], for there were no ruling machines. No rubber bands were in existence to hold papers together, for India rubber had not yet been brought from the depths of the Brazilian forest; papers were sewed together in place of being fastened with convenient clamps, and were then tied with the traditional red tape. Handkerchiefs were known only to the wealthy, and seldom made use of by them, being first made popular by the Empress Josephine, who had bad teeth, and concealed the deformity by holding a handkerchief before her lips when she laughed. Linen collars and cuffs were unthought [sic] of, and starch was little used by either rich or poor. The farmers cut grain with a sickle, for the scythe and cradle had not been invented, while harvesters, reapers and mowers and twine-binders were undreamed of. There were no horse railroads in the streets, no stages save for long journeys, no ice machines, no ironclads, no rifled guns. The knitting was all done by hand, for stocking machines were not in existence, nor were lightning rods nor lifeboats. There were no road wagons; musical instruments were scarce and costly. There were a few clavichords and harpsichords, and although some of the greatest composers had finished their work, their compositions had not been heard on the instruments best adapted to them. Bach never heard his compositions played on a piano. Nails were made by hand. There was no straw paper; there were no paper bags, nor skates, nor steel pens. Coal tar was not in existence, so there were no aniline dyes nor flavoring extracts. The power press had not come into being; printing was done by hand; nor was there any stereotyping.
NO REVOLVERS OR BANKS.
There were no revolvers for the use of the criminal classes; highwaymen armed themselves with horse pistols a foot long, giving a report like a young cannon. There were no savings banks, no seed drills, no sewing machines, no machines for making shoes, no steam fire engines, no stem-winding watches, no street sweepers, for sweeping was never done save at crossings. The streets were unpaved; at the corners and on both sides of the way, stepping stones were placed about a foot apart that pedestrians might be kept out of the mire, and these steps, on a rainy day, caused frequent conflicts between citizens anxious to keep their feet out of the mud. There were no tacks, and consequently no jokes about stepping on these instruments of torture. There was no machine-made thread. Vaccination had been in use about ten years, but had not come to America, and in England Jenner sometimes found it necessary to have himself attended by a guard to prevent violence from the common people. There was no wooden pavement, no wood paper; very few rooms in America had carpets on the floors, sand being used instead. There were no factory-made chairs, no water pipes in the streets; there was no water in the houses save what was carried in by hand; nor were there any house furnaces. Cooking in winter was done in iron pots before a mighty hearth, and in the outhouses in summer. The windows would not lift, for window weights had not been invented. The sash sometimes opened outwardly like our shutters, but were not often used in this way, for the importance of ventilation was not understood.
A hundred years ago there were no medical colleges worthy of the name in America; a young doctor learned his trade from an old doctor, and in the course of six months' study acquired the art of mixing the big doses which were then in common use. There were no drug stores, with their long array of bottles labeled with unpronounceable names. Most of the chemicals now in use are of the present century. No patent medicines were employed. In the spring of the year people drugged themselves with huge doses of senna and manna, as well as of rhubarb, of brimstone and treacle. Ague fits were common, but there was no quinine for their alleviation; pounded Peruvian bark, at an enormous price, answered the purpose. There was no morphine, no bromide of any kind, no chloral. There was no mercy for the sick man. "Bleed him till he faints," was the favorite precept of more than one physician. In New England, at least, there was no chance to escape the church service. The preacher often preached for four hours at a time, noted his audience very carefully, and any member of the flock absent without sufficient excuse was waited upon the next day by the constable, hauled before the magistrate, admonished, and upon a second offense, was fined and put in the stocks. A wealthy clergyman was unknown; the preacher was paid in kind, and received during the year a little of everything that his flock ate and wore. Each parishioner deposited at the door of his spiritual adviser a little corn, a few potatoes, a little wood, a little salt pork, a little hominy, some oats, a fowl or two, some fish, a piece or two of corn beef. Rich editors were as scarce as wealthy preachers; their subscribers paid their dues in wood, corn and wheat; the editors were apparently always asking for money and never getting it.
CARRYING THE MAILS.
There were no regular mails, for the mail carrier was never sent out until he had enough matter to pay the expenses of the trip. The mail between New York and Boston, in 1794, was carried in a single pair of saddle-bags, and when its quantity had increased so that two pair were necessary, the carrier rebelled and struck for higher wages. No facilities for traveling existed. A man starting from Massachusetts to Virginia made his will and bade his friends farewell, as though he never was to see them again. Two stage coaches plied between New York and Boston, were from six to nine days on the road, and passed each other on the way. In the cities of 100 years ago there were a few street lamps fed by whale or train oil, but they were seldom lighted, except on gala occasions, for everybody was in bed shortly after dark. A century ago there was no sleep for the boys in the churches of New York or Boston, for a man with a pole stood ready to prod the sleepy youth and thus keep him alive to a sense of the spiritual condition. Nor was there any escape from the collection, for a deacon passed round with a bag at the end of a pole, to which a little bell was attached to call the attention of the drowsy contributors. No organs were used in the churches, and the singing was so slow that one preacher testifies he had time to take a breath twice on one note. Our great-grandfathers had no coal, nor were they fortunate enough to possess matches. When the fire accidentally went out during a long winter's night a boy was dispatched in the morning with a shovel to the nearest neighbors to bring fire. If there were no neighbors an effort was made to kindle a blaze by a handful of whittled shavings, ignited by powder touched off with flint and steel. Stone houses were few, those of brick still fewer. In the country log houses were fashionable, and in cities most of the houses were of frame work. There was not a chromo in America, nor were there any statues; marble cutting was unknown. There were no visiting cards, no engraved invitations, no paper boxes.
THE WAY OF THE TRANSGRESSOR.
Our great-grandfathers had no mercy on prisoners. In Newgate, Conn., an old mine served as a prison. Descent was effected to it by means of a ladder, and, for further security, the prisoner was fastened to the floor by one foot, and to the ceiling by means of a chain passed round his neck. The treadmill, stocks and pillory were in every parish, and hangmen kept knives for cutting off the ears, slitting the lips and trimming the noses of offenders, and also manipulated the branding irons. Counterfeiters were marked with a "C" on the forehead; thieves were marked with "F" for the Latin "fur," or "T" for the English "thief." Swearing in public was not allowed; the oath 'by God,' used in Massachusetts, was punishable by the stocks, ten lashes and a lecture from the preacher. Gradations in profanity were made. "By Christ" was punishable by the stocks and fine, without the lashes; "G-d d--n" by a fine of 10 shillings, and plain, simple "damn" was worth 5 shillings. There was no surgery. The hod carrier today, who falls off a ladder and is carried to a charity hospital, receives better medical and surgical attention than all the money of George III could have purchased, or than all the wheat raised on George Washington's farm could have secured. There were no amusements; the most worldly-minded sinners indulged only in dancing and cards. There were no theaters save in two or three cities, where the play began at 6 o'clock, and the managers stated that they would be obliged for any old plays their patrons did not care to use. In New England, 100 years ago, a bitter controversy was going on as to whether "theater going" should be allowed. Somebody hired a barn in Boston, put up a sing, "Exhibition Room," over the door and sent a bell man up and down the streets to announce that "moral lectures would be given by several performers at one time," but while the "School for Scandal," a moral lecture in several fittes [sic]," was being delivered by a company of lecturers, the players were arrested and the play stopped.
There were no manufactures in New England, and New York was of no importance as a port of entry. All the rice, pitch, tar, wheat and corn exported were sent out from southern ports and the New England states were regarded as too poor to feed their own people. There was not a cotton factory in the world, for the fiber could not be separated from the seed save by hand. Linen factories had not yet come into existence; every housewife raised her own flax and made her own linen. Ready-made clothing stores were unknown; every housekeeper made all the clothing used by her entire family, herself spun the thread, wove the linsey woolsey cloth, borrowed a pattern, adjusted it to her own notions and made every article of clothing worn by herself, husband, sons and daughters. There was no unity of language in this country. Dutch was spoken in New York as much as English; German might be heard in many of the Pennsylvania settlements and Scandinavian was common along the Delaware. Gaelic was spoken along the North Carolina mountains, French in South Carolina, Spanish in Florida and English in Georgia, the Central and New England states. No macadamized roads connected the colonies and no galloping horses were allowed in the city streets under penalty of a fine of 3 shillings and 6 pence. The women did no shopping and the the store keeper sent out no flaming advertisements. Normal schools were yet in the future; Sunday schools with their millions of scholars were unknown. The teacher of the district school boarded around among his neighbors and patrons and impressed ideas on the youthful minds by means of a stick. Educational appliances were of the simplest possible description, consisting of a spelling book and a manuscript arithmetic owned by the teacher. There were no slates, no paper pads, no lead pencils; a copy book was made from half a quire of paper. The copy was sent by the preceptor and the writing done with the pupil's own pen manufactured from the quill of a home-grown goose. There were no base ball games and no boating. Gymnasiums were unknown and sawing wood was considered appropriate exercise for young men. There were no dude college graduates; the Yale student had no privileges and no dainty dishes were set on his table. In the college boarding house his rations consisted, for breakfast of a pint of coffee, a biscuit and some butter. Mondays and Thursdays were "boiling days," the others were "roasting days." On "roasting days" he had for dinner two potatoes and bread in addition to his roast. On "boiling days" there was cabbage, potatoes and pudding, usually plum duff, boiled dough with a few raisins scattered through it. For supper he had a slice of bread and a bowl of milk. If he wanted more he had to buy it for himself.
FLOWERS AND VEGETABLES.
Our great grandmothers had few flowers, save such as grew wild. They knew nothing of the hydrangea, which did not come from China until 1840; nor were they familiar with the maurandia vine, the salvia or the tiger flower, which came together from Mexico about 1822. They did not have the thumbergia, which was not brought from the East Indies until 1823; nor the "Wandering Jew," which reached North America from South America at the same date; nor the bleeding heart, which came from Siberia in 1810; nor the coleus, which emigrated from Java in 1861; nor the lemon verbena, which came from Chili [sic] in 1794. The calla lily was not known in America, and was rare in England, though it had come from the Cape of Good Hope in 1731; thes [sic] milax [sic] [Smilax?] was scarcely more familiar, though it had come from the same party of Africa in 1732, and the heliotrope, little better known, though it emigrated in 1757 from Peru. The strawberry geranium was just beginning to attract attention, having come from China in 1771, and the mignonette was unfamiliar though brought from Italy in 1752. The cyclamen had come from Cyprus in 1731, but was not widely diffused, while the dew plant had not yet come from the Cape of Good Hope, nor the dahlia from Mexico, and the petunia had just arrived from South America. The vegetable gardens were hardly better cared from than the flower plats. The tables of our great-grandfathers of 1794 were well supplied with fresh food and groaned under the weight of salt pork, salt beef, dried or jerked beef and venison, bear meat, buffalo, moose and elk beef and salt fish. Their meats were mostly salt or dried, for no ice was put up and there were no butcher shops. "Killing a beef" was an event; all the neighborhood was invited; each family took a part. For vegetables they had cabbages, onions, leeks, potatoes, dried beans and a few peas. Indian corn was plentiful, but turnips were scarce and little eaten, for they were thought to be bad for the eyes. The egg plant and cauliflower were unknown, although the latter had come to England from Cyprus in 1603, but they had not yet reached America. Tomatoes were grown among the flowers, called "love apples," and thought to be poisonous. Radishes were known, but little used. Lettuce and cucumbers were used in England, but not in America. There was no sweet corn; the succulent snapbean was not yet developed, and asparagus was not in favor. Parsnips were occasionally grown, but not liked.
For fruits they had apples dried for winter use, pears used fresh, and a few trees of peaches. The grape, the strawberry, the raspberry, the dewberry and blackberry grew wild, and were sometimes picked for use, but the fruit was small, sour and inferior, and there was no thought of cultivating these plants. The watermelon, cantaloupe and muskmelon were unknown, while oranges, bananas, pineapples and other tropical fruits would not bear the long ocean voyage, and consequently were not seen once in a decade. A hundred years ago there was not talk about political parties, for, aside from Whig, understood to mean a man in favor of American independence, and Tory, a man in favor of the continuance of British rule, political parties had no existence. Slaves were held in all the states and slave trading was considered a legitimate form of business enterprise in which the pious New Englanders engaged as earnestly and zealously as did the natives of the south. Human beings were openly bought and sold, and kidnaping [sic] Indian children for slaves was a lucrative business. The multiplicity of religious denominations was yet a thing of the future. The faiths of the colonists were few and simple. The New Englanders were Congregationalists, the Virginians were Church of England members, the Catholics were most numerous in the Carolinas and the Methodists were just making a start. The morning papers were yet in the future. Boston had the News-Letter, founded in 1704; the Boston Gazette, established in 1719; the New England Courant, 1721, and the Columbian Sentinal, 1775. Philadelphia had the American Weekly Mercurie, 1719. New York had the Gazette, 1773, and the Royal Gazette, founded in the same year, and Worcester, Mass., had The Spy, established in 1775. All were weekly, had consisted of shipping news, local matters and an occasional very cautious expression of opinion on matters of public interest. There were no telegrams, of course, and the news letters, when dealing with political matters, rarely ventured on publishing names, but darkly hinted at the persons alluded to. The advertisements consisted mostly of legal notices and rewards offered for lost animals and runaway slaves. The printing press was manipulated by hand, for steam was not applied to printing until 1814. The editor was called the printer and was liable, civilly and criminally, for everything that appeared in his paper, and was held to an accountability so strict that a few years of the business generally made him anxious to find another job. Such were the good old days--days when every man raised his own tobacco in his front yard and smoked it in a pipe, the cob of which grew in his own field; when every woman made her own soap with lye from the ash hopper, mixed with vile smelling grease saved for a year in her "fat barrel;" kept her butter in a bucket hung in the well and her milk in the spring house; days when the young gentlemen had neither cigarettes nor canes, and the young lady neither her candy nor chewing gum, and the small boy could not make the immortal Fourth hideous with firecrackers, because he had none. Men may praise the good old times for their simplicity, but not even the veriest croaker would be willing to see them return.
Copyright Ⓒ 2021 Kristin Holt LC