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Sunday, April 12, 2015


You look at the world around you and might get mostly frustrated that terrorists are compromising your freedom, law enforcement officials are causing unrest in minor cities, our government seems broken and you worry a bit about your finances.  There are certainly gloomy projections about our future with global warming, energy peaks, food shortages and just too many people.  And what is technological singularity, anyway?  Were things much better in the old days...say a hundred years ago?

There are around half a million centenarians alive today.  Japan has the most, 54,397, and the USA is #2 with 53,364, but this means, per 100,000, the figure for Japan is 43 and the U.S. 17.  China is 3.6.  Appropriately enough, Japan previously had the oldest person, but after her death, the #1 is now an American lady,  at 116.  She and other super-centenarians (110 or older) can actually remember what happened in 1915, and there are perhaps 375 of them, with only 52 verified.

No one personally can recall the Civil War, for that ended 150 years ago.  But maybe someone actually alive viewed on 1 January 1915 DW Griffith's Clansman, from the Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, a book by Thomas Dixon, who is regularly quoted by current White Supremacists.  All these policemen beating unarmed blackmen?  A hundred years ago that would not have been an issue.  The title of the film was changed to The Birth of the Nation,  was the first truly "popular" blockbuster, but make no mistake about it, these were three hours of racist propaganda.  Watch the entire 3 hr 13 min film by clicking on that title, starring Lillian Gish.  Playing a KKK was academy award director John Ford, with eventual Oscar winner Donald Crisp as General Ulysses S. Grant.

To celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco was first dedicated on 9 January 1915, but the more ostensible reason was to showcase the recovery of that city from the 1906 earthquake.  The Place of Fine Arts still survives.

In the Year 1915 these were signs of those times:
  • The U.S. House of Representatives rejected a proposal to give women the right to vote. (Women had to wait until 1920.)  That's Susan B. Anthony to the right.
  • As European countries completed their scramble to take over African nations, Japan claimed economic control over China.  What were the justifications?  Countries just did it.
  • Germany used Zeppelins (dirigibles) to bomb Great Britain for the first time.
  • Georges Claude, a student of Jacques-Arsene d'Arsonanval, invented neon lights.  Claude in the 1930's failed in two attempts off Cuba to make ocean thermal energy conversion work.  In the forties he was imprisoned for being a Nazi collaborator.
  • Alexander Graham Bell (left) made the first transcontinental telephone call to Thomas Watson  (right) from New York to San Francisco.  Mind you, these same two talked on the phone 38 years earlier when they were two miles apart.
  • U.S. Marines occupied Haiti (we stayed for almost two decades).
  • Germany attacked Russia with poison gas.
I'm not making this up and all the above occurred just in the month of January.  To continue:
  • U.S. President Woodrow Wilson protested to Britain the use of US flags on British merchant ships to deceive the Germans.  America did not enter World War I until 1917.
  • Easy divorce was made legal in Nevada.
  • The French lost 50,000 troops just in one drive against Germany, gaining a few hundred yards.  By comparison, the U.S. military casualties in the Korea War were 37,000.
  • The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was created, which later became NASA.
  • Pluto was first photographed, before it was named a planet, and recently plutoed.
  • Typhoid Mary (right) was arrested in New York.  She had infected 51 people and was forcibly isolated by public health officials for almost three decades.
  • The New York Yankees wore pinstripes for the first time.
  • Lt. Col. John McCrae wrote In Flanders Field.
  • Babe Ruth made his pitching debut, against the Yankees, lost, but hit a home run.
  • America's Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine, with a loss of 1198 lives, but American resisted entering the war.
  • AT&T was first to have 1 million stockholders.
  • Thomas Edison invented something called a telescribe to record telephone conversations.
  • Denmark allowed woman suffrage.
  • Erich Muenter, a German instructor at Cornell, exploded a bomb in the U.S. Senate reception room, then shot JP Morgan.
  • Extensive German espionage and subversion network was discovered across the U.S.
  • Galveston hurricane killed 275 (however, another Galveston hurricane of 1900 took the most lives for an American hurricane:  8000).
  • Raggedy Ann doll was patented.
  • C.H. Chubb bought Stonehenge.
  • One millionth Model T was manufactured.
  • The top four songs were:
  1. A Little Bit of Heaven, George MacFarlane
  2. Carry Me Back to Old Virginny, Alma Gluck
  3. It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary, John McCormack
  4. They Didn't Believe Me, Harry Macdonough and Olive Kline (right)
The top four films were (sound came with The Jazz Singer in 1927):
  1. The Birth of the Nation  $10 million revenues (this would be worth around $250 million today)
  2. Burlesque on Carmen starring Charlie Chaplin, no report of box office receipts, but he made 36 films in 1914 and 13 in 1915
  3. Carmen, starring Theda Bara (right), such a mystery, as there is no report of revenues, but it was supposedly #3 for the year, the film itself was lost
  4. The Cheat, by Cecil B. DeMille  $137,364 (the full one hour version)
You've got to admit what's happening today is almost trivial compared to a century ago.


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