Topics in the News
Expositions, Fairs, and Amusement Parks
Decade of Fairs.
American cities in the 1900s were engaged in a fierce competition for prestige and status, and civic boosters looked to world's fairs as one vehicle for attracting press attention, visitors, and new business. Thanks to the stylistic and popular success of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, promoters in the 1900s sought to imitate it across the United States. The 1901 Exposition in Buffalo, New York, (where President William McKinley was assassinated); the 1904 Saint Louis exposition; the 1905 Portland, Oregon, World's Fair; the 1907 Jamestown (Virginia) Tercentennial; and the 1909 Seattle fair were among the major spectacles of the decade. Fairs attempted to educate and entertain their visitors. They usually featured displays of the latest technological marvels, from railroad locomotives to dynamos to new household gadgets. Countries from around the world often mounted exhibits designed to reflect their own technological and industrial achievements and distinctive cultural heritage. The fairs and expositions of the 1900s prominently featured the new role of the United States as an imperial power. For example, the Philippines Reservation at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase International Exposition in Saint Louis displayed twelve hundred Filipinos living under "primitive" conditions. The exhibit was intended as a clear demonstration of their need for the missionary...
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Most American families in the 1900s were large by the standards of the late twentieth century, but their size was already diminishing. The birthrate in the United States in 1900 was 32.3 births per thousand people. A century earlier it had been 55 births per thousand people. The average number of children per family was 3.56. Poorer families tended to have more children, since they often needed the income their offspring could provide. Life expectancy was low, and it varied significantly by class, race, and sex. The life expectancy for white women in 1900 was 48.7 years; for nonwhite women it was 33.5 years. For white men in that year the average life expectancy was 46.6 years, compared to 32.5 years for nonwhite men. Short life expectancy and high infant mortality meant that many families had to cope with the loss of a child or a parent. For the average
Household chores such as cooking and cleaning, which fell on the shoulders of mothers and daughters in working-class families and to...
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A Land of Immigrants.
In 1885 the Protestant writer and orator Josiah Strong noted in his popular tract Our Country that "America, as the land of promise to all the world, is the destination of the most remarkable migration of which we have any record. During the last four years we have suffered a peaceful invasion by an army more than twice as vast as the estimated number of Goths and Vandals that swept over Southern Europe and overwhelmed Rome.… A study of the causes of this great world movement," he continued, "indicates that as yet we have seen only beginnings." Whatever one might think of Strong's equation of immigrants with an invading army, he was perceptive in recognizing that a migration of unprecedented scope was under way, a migration that would continue until the eve of World War I. Immigration not only transformed American society in the 1900s, but became a focal point for widespread anxiety about the nation's future, about the growth of cities and slums, and about what exactly it meant to be an American. Immigration was not, of course, a new phenomenon in the American experience. From the early seventeenth century to the Civil War, American culture, religion, and society had been shaped by successive waves of immigration from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Mexico. But the immigration of the 1900s was different in several significant ways.
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The Color Line.
Race relations in the United States reached a new low in the first decade of the new century. By 1900 Native Americans had been reduced to dependency, stripped of much of the land granted to them by treaty and left to defend themselves against further encroachment by mining companies and land speculators. On the West Coast Asian Americans continued to encounter resentment and misunderstanding. Relations between whites and blacks were marked by two unavoidable phenomena: violence and segregation. The decade began with a race riot in New York City and saw subsequent riots in Atlanta in 1906 and in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908. In the latter incident two blacks were lynched, four whites were killed, seventy people were injured, and a force of five thousand militiamen was required to restore order in the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. A regiment of black soldiers was summarily and dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army after its role in a riot in Brownsville, Texas, in August 1906. Lynchings of blacks were frighteningly common, though on the decline by comparison with the last two decades of the nineteenth century: there were one hundred such incidents in 1900 alone, and eleven hundred between 1900 and the beginning of World War I.
Segregation, long the practice in most parts of the country, was written...
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The Settlement House Movement
Origins and Aims.
In order to address the problems faced by the urban poor, many of whom were new Americans, progressive reformers organized schools and settlement houses. The idea behind settlement houses was that social reform had to begin with individuals, who needed help to overcome conditions created by circumstances that were beyond their control. To that end, reformers had to live in the neighborhoods of their clients so that they could truly understand their needs. Stanton Coit brought the settlement house idea to New York City in 1886, when he opened the Neighborhood Guild. Although the guild failed soon afterward, it inspired the College Settlement (1889), founded by graduates of the "Seven Sisters" women's colleges. Among the best known of the dozens of settlement houses founded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the Hull House in Chicago, the Henry Street Settlement in New York City, and James Reynolds's New York University Settlement. collegeeducated middle-class people, especially women, were attracted to settlements because they offered a way to be useful in a time when opportunities for educated women were constricted. Workers tended to be in their twenties or thirties, and were often inspired by the message of the Social Gospel to carry Christian principles of equality and mutual responsibility into poor neighborhoods. Some did not stay long, but there...
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A New Profession.
Prior to the 1900s what we now know as social work was done by amateurs, well-intentioned women and men who lacked formal training but possessed a desire to help those they viewed as less fortunate than themselves. But in the 1900s the field was transformed by the application of new knowledge and methods to the problems of poverty, vice, disease, alcoholism, and other social ills. Many of these new approaches were generated by social scientists such as Edward A. Ross at the University of Wisconsin, who had been trained in Europe, and in turn trained a young generation of men and women in economics and sociology. While many were educated at what were still known as schools of philanthropy, social workers made every effort to distance themselves from their roots in the voluntaristic tradition of the rich helping the poor. Instead, they saw themselves as professional investigators equipped with tools that nineteenth-century charitable organizations did not possess.
Social workers were mainly middle-class whites. During this decade it was one of the few occupations in which men and women had relative parity. And although one of their motives was to control those they aided and mold them into more-acceptable behavior, social welfare reformers did much to improve people's health and well-being. They also...
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Temperance and Prohibition
Temperance was a prominent issue in American reform movements throughout the nineteenth century, but it took on new urgency during the decade of the 1900s as part of the effort by the progressives to exert social control. Progressives blamed the "liquor trust" for promoting alcohol use and abuse and thus tied the growing crusade for Prohibition to the larger goal of curbing the influence of big business.
There was some truth to the charges by temperance crusaders: in 1900 brewers controlled two-thirds of bars and saloons in the Midwest. These saloons were gathering places for the urban working class, where machine politicians could find their constituents and cajole them for their votes. Indeed, urban working-class voters were known as "wets" and strongly opposed any kind of Prohibition. Many first- or second-generation immigrants drank as part of their customary recreation, and they would not accept government interference in their personal lives.
For reform-minded Protestant elites, the gathering of the "lower orders" in taverns and saloons was dangerous and corrupt, and when mixed with politics was yet another reason to prohibit alcohol sales. Reformers thus argued that consumption of alcohol was bad for the body and for the body politic....
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The electric streetcar was the most influential transportation alternative in the 1900s. Cities expanded along streetcar routes, and they enabled skilled workers to move further from their workplaces and out of slums and permitted middle-class families to move to new suburban neighborhoods. The streetcar network was so complete that it was possible to travel from New York City to Portland, Maine, via streetcars. The explosive growth of Los Angeles in the 1900s would have been impossible without the streetcar. Pacific Electric, a streetcar company founded by railroad magnate Henry E.
Image Pop-UpThe poor condition of roads, such as this one in North Carolina, was the motivation behind the first Good Roads Movement.
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Though widely excluded from the male-dominated political parties, fraternal organizations, and trade unions, women found other ways of influencing public policy, making great strides by the first decade of the twentieth century but often at high cost to themselves. Through their own labor organizations, volunteer groups, and pressure groups they won broader and greater rights for working-class women and their children. Drawing on the widely held belief in the moral superiority of women, their wisdom and special responsibility in dealing with family issues, middle-class reformers developed a "maternalist" vision of women's political role. They expanded the nineteenth-century cult of domesticity—the belief that a woman's proper sphere was the home—to legitimize their efforts to influence public-policy issues that affected the family, including prostitution and abuse of the family by male alcoholics, as well as economic and health provisions for children, mothers, and working women. Early feminists used many other strategies, but the maternalist approach became dominant. By promoting the maternalist view, however, its supporters undercut the emerging theory that women were equal to men and instead fell back on the long-held belief that women were different from men and needed special protection.
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The World of Work
The continuing Industrial Revolution made the workplace of the 1900s a starkly different place from that of the mid nineteenth century, and within the decade itself the nature of industrial work changed even more. First, the scale of industrial enterprises continued to increase: in the early twentieth century the old industrial giants of the Gilded Age—plants that manufactured steel, iron rails, and other railroad equipment—would be dwarfed by enormous factory complexes some-times employing fifteen thousand to twenty thousand workers and producing automobiles, farm machinery, electrical equipment, and textiles. Second, within the new factories the skills of the nineteenth-century artisan were being replaced by machines that could be tended by workers with much less training and experience. Where artisanal skills had once given workers a degree of control over the pace and method of work, machines—along with efficiency experts such as Frederick Winslow Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth—were reducing many jobs to a series of repetitive motions. Finally, more and more Americans were employed in white-collar positions, from supervisory and clerical personnel in business and industry, to professionals like lawyers, doctors, and engineers, to the thousands of people working in the booming retail sector.
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Addams, Jane 1860-1935
REFORMER; PEACE ACTIVIST; FOUNDER OF
Jane Addams was best known for her role as a leader of the settlement-house movement in the United States and as the founder of Hull House in Chicago. But she was also a prominent peace activist, an ardent campaigner for women's suffrage, and one of the intellectual leaders of the progressive movement. Born to a wealthy businessman and Illinois state senator and his wife, she graduated from Rockford (Illinois) Seminary in 1881. Addams then attended the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia, but after a year she had to drop out for health reasons. For seven years she searched for something meaningful to do with her life, and finally found it on a trip to Europe. For young women of Addams's background, a trip to Europe was intended as the cap-stone of their cultural education, the final preparation for lives as wives, mothers, and club women. But Addams, as she recalled in her autobiography, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910), rejected "the...
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Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt 1868-1963
AUTHOR, EDITOR, ACTIVIST
W. E. B. Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868 and educated until the age of sixteen in a small local school of some twenty-five students and two teachers. They were humble origins for a man who would not only become a major voice for the advancement of blacks in the decade of the 1900s but would become an international figure of the twentieth century, active until his death in 1963 in Accra, Ghana. Du Bois's father left home when Du Bois was just a year old. He was raised by his mother, Mary Du Bois, until his 1885 departure for Fisk University, an all-black college in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Fisk he founded the Fisk Herald, the college newspaper, but more importantly observed for the first time life in the American South, where the great majority of blacks lived in the nineteenth century. During two of his summers at Fisk he walked at length around the countryside looking for a school in which he could teach. The experience of living among and observing rural southern blacks would form the core of his most enduring book, The Souls of Black Folk (1903). He received...
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Gilman, Charlotte Perkins 1860-1935
FEMINIST WRITER AND LECTURER
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, one of the most prominent lecturers and social critics of the 1900s, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, into one of the most intellectually prestigious families in the United States. Her father was the nephew of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and was the brother-in-law of Edward Everett Hale. Gilman had a difficult childhood. Her father left the household in 1866, and Gilman grew up fatherless with her mother dependent on family members for support. Gilman later recalled her great-aunt Harriet Beecher Stowe fondly and early on chose her as a role model. Although she had a somewhat limited formal education, Gilman was a voracious reader from the age of fifteen. At seventeen she requested from her distant father Frederick Perkins, author of The Best Reading (1877), a list of books to read. He replied with a long list of nonfiction titles on evolution, anthropology, and ethnology. In 1880, at the age of twenty, Gilman completed two years of study at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Her modest education was over. She began earning a living as a freelance commercial artist, but in 1882 she met Charles Walter Stetson, an aspiring artist. After much reluctance and inner struggle she married Stetson in 1884; she gave birth to a daughter, Katherine, the following year....
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Goldman, Emma 1869-1940
FREETHINKER, ANARCHIST, SOCIAL CRITIC
Emma Goldman was born in Kovno, Russia; she immigrated to the United States in 1885. After working in Rochester, New York, for a few months, she moved to New Haven, Connecticut. There she became acquainted with political radicals, and she was deeply impressed by the anarchists involved in the 1886 Chicago Haymarket Square bombing. By 1889 Goldman was a confirmed anarchist, and she moved to New York City at a time, as she recalled in her memoirs, when her "entire possessions consisted of five dollars and a small handbag." In partnership with another Russian immigrant, Alexander Berkman, whom she called Sasha, Goldman helped plan the attempted assassination in 1892 of Henry Clay Frick, an associate of Andrew Carnegie whom labor activists held responsible for a pitched battle between striking steelworkers and Pinkerton detectives at Home-stead, Pennsylvania. For her role in the failed attempt she served a year in jail. By 1901 Goldman had a reputation as a violent political revolutionary. When President William McKinley was assassinated, Goldman was implicated when the gunman, Leon Czolgosz, told police that he had been inspired by Goldman.
Goldman's anarchism was part of a broad critique of American society, and her views on sex, marriage, and...
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Huntington, Henry Edwards 1850-1927
STREETCAR MAGNATE, RAILROAD EXECUTIVE, FINANCIER
Henry Edwards Huntington was born to Solon and Harriet Huntington in Oneonta, New York, in 1850. Huntington attended a local public school, finishing at age seventeen. He traveled in 1869 to Cohoes, New York, to work for his brother-in-law at a hardware store. His uncle Collis Huntington was a successful businessman living in New York City, and in 1870 Henry (known as Edward to intimates) moved there to find work. After a one-year stint working as a hardware wholesaler, Huntington accepted the first of many business opportunities from his Uncle Collis. He moved to Coalsmouth, West Virginia, and managed a sawmill owned by his uncle. In 1873 Huntington married Mary Prentice and bought half of the sawmill from his uncle, the other half having been purchased by Gen. Richard Franchot, a Civil War veteran and associate of Collis Huntington. Henry Huntington continued to run the mill, which served as his apprenticeship as a businessman.
In 1881 Collis Huntington offered his nephew a new position overseeing track expansion for the Chesapeake, Ohio and South Western Railroad Company. Huntington accepted the job. He would spend the rest of his working days involved with railroad construction and management. He moved to Kentucky and worked the next...
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Kelley, Florence 1859-1932
At the Vanguard.
As a single mother, a socialist, and a sociologist working for suffrage, women's rights, and urban reform in Chicago and New York, Florence Kelley was at the vanguard of several reform movements. For thirty-four years, after she helped to found it in 1899, she served as the head of the National Consumers' League (NCL), the single most effective lobbying agency for protective labor legislation for women and children.
The daughter of Quaker abolitionist William Darrah Kelley—a founding member of the Republican Party, a Radical Reconstructionist, and a U.S. congressman from Philadelphia—Florence Kelley combined the firsthand education acquired from her father with the tradition of female political activism she inherited from her great-aunt Sarah Pugh, a leading abolitionist. After she graduated from Cornell University in 1882, Kelley discovered that women of her generation had no real opportunity to locate work commensurate with their talents. In...
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Muir, John 1838-1914
NATURALIST, FOUNDER OF THE SIERRA CLUB
John Muir was the most influential and best known advocate of wilderness protection during the 1900s. He was born in Scotland and immigrated to the Wisconsin frontier in 1849. Self-educated, he later attended the University of Wisconsin from 1860 to 1863. Muir became interested in botany, and he took walking trips around the Midwest and Canada. After an industrial accident in 1867, he decided to devote himself to "the study of the inventions of God." In 1868 he first visited California's Yosemite Valley, where he remained for six years. After spending years away from it, Muir returned to the valley in 1889 to find it spoiled by logging and sheep grazing. In 1890 he helped to win passage of the Yosemite National Park Act.
By 1900 he had helped found the Sierra Club (1892) and was busy raising public awareness of the need to protect America's wilderness lands. In 1901 he published Our National Parks, and two years later went on a camping trip in California with President Theodore Roosevelt. It was on this trip that Muir was able to influence public policy the most. Roosevelt was moved to add 148 million acres to the national forest lands, and he also doubled the number of national parks and created sixteen national monuments. One of...
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Nation, Carry 1846-1911
Carry Nation was the most famous prohibition activist during the 1900s. Born poor in Garrard County, Kentucky, Carry had little education and married young. Soon she discovered that her husband was an alcoholic, so she left him and returned home. He died six months later, and she married David Nation in 1877. After several moves the couple arrived in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, where Nation began to crusade against liquor. She helped found the local chapter of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and in 1899 closed a saloon by leading a prayer vigil in it. This did not work with the other bars in town, so Carry soon adopted more dramatic methods. In 1900 she began to throw bricks at saloons, causing considerable damage. Soon she had a full arsenal of weapons, including the famous hatchet.
Almost six feet tall and powerfully built, Carry had the strength to attack saloons physically. Her methods brought her national attention when she wrecked the bar of Wichita's Hotel Carey and was jailed for two weeks. Thereafter, she was arrested frequently. In order to pay her fines, she lectured widely, spreading the Prohibition gospel far and wide. She also published her autobiography, The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation, in 1904 and sold miniature...
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Patten, Simon 1852-1922
The turn of the twentieth century witnessed a major change from the economic theories that had dominated the nineteenth century. At the forefront of these new economic theories of consumerism, prosperity, and abundance was an unlikely "revolutionary." Simon N. Patten, by all accounts, was a lonely, solitary figure who insisted on social betterment. He was a farmer who settled in and helped revolutionize the business economy of the cities. He was a monastic and somewhat ascetic figure, yet insisted that happiness could be gleaned by all through materialism and consumerism. But he was also regarded as a fine teacher and a brilliant thinker, a man who discarded what he believed to be the limiting factors of the old economics and saw that something good could and would happen in the United States in the new century.
Patten was born in Cossumyuna, New York, in 1852, but shortly after his birth, his family moved to a farm near Sandwich, Illinois. His mother died of typhoid fever when Patten was four. His father became a successful farmer, was an elder in the United Presbyterian Church, and served in the Illinois legislature as well as in the Union army during the Civil War. Patten attended a local public school and at seventeen entered the Jennings Seminary in nearby Aurora,...
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People in the News
In 1908 Grace Abbott became director of the Immigrant's Protective League (1908-1917). She called for regulation of employment agencies, compulsory education, and open immigration. She later served as director of the Children's Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor.
In 1909 Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, inheritor of two of the largest fortunes in the United States, lent her name and financial support to striking garment workers in New York City. She was also an active member of the Congressional Union, an important suffrage organization in the 1900s.
In 1900 Carrie Chapman Catt was elected president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and would remain a prominent leader of the movement into the 1920s.
In 1909 Herbert David Croly published The Promise of American Life, in which he advocated a platform of reform and administration he called the "New Nationalism." The term, and the book, caught the attention of former president Theodore Roosevelt, who incorporated Croly's ideas into his 1912 presidential campaign.
Joan Cuneo, the first eminent woman race driver, entered her first race in 1905, and in 1907 completed a fifteen-hundred-mile round trip.
In 1908 Josephine Clara Goldmark provided pathbreaking sociological research that...
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Herbert Baxter Adams, historian whose students included Woodrow Wilson and Frederick Jackson Turner who helped organize the American Historical Association (1886), 30 July 1901.
Daniel Agnew, 93, Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge who found local dry laws constitutional, 9 March 1902.
Susan Brownell Anthony, 86, reformer and founder of the women's suffrage movement in the United States, 13 March 1906.
Caroline Astor, 78, socialite, founder of the "Four Hundred," 30 October 1908.
Harriet Hubbard Ayer, 54, first woman to make fortune in the cosmetics industry, 1903.
Frank C. Bangs, 74, humorist, lecturer, 12 June 1908.
Josephine Abiah Penfield Cushman Bateham, 71, influential advocate of Sunday closing laws (blue laws), 15 March 1901.
John Bidwell, 80, former Prohibition Party presidential candidate, 4 April 1900.
Calamity Jane, 51, cowgirl, adventurer, 1 August 1903.
Julia Colman, 80, Woman's Christian Temperance Union officer, influential writer and editor, 10 January 1909.
Jane "Jennie June" Cunningham Croly, 72, newspaper reporter and clubwoman, 1902.
Rev. Theodore Ledyard Cuyler,...
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Brooks Adams, America's Economic Supremacy (New York: Macmillan, 1900);
Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (Wahington, D.C.: Privately printed, 1907);
Jane Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1902);
Addams, Newer Ideals of Peace (New York: Macmillan, 1907);
Addams, The Spirit of Youth and City Streets (New York: Macmillan, 1909);
James Lane Allen, The Reign of Law (New York: Macmillan, 1900);
Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds., The History of Woman Suffrage, 4 volumes (Rochester, N.Y.: Susan B. Anthony, 1887-1902);
Ray Stannard Baker, Following the Color Line (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1908);
Baker (as David Grayson), Adventures in Contentment (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1907);
Charles W. Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1901);
Charles H. Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order (New York: Scribners, 1902);
Cooley, Social Organization: A Study of the Larger Mind (New York: Scribners, 1909);
Herbert David Croly, The Promise of American Life (New York:...
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- The census reports a population of 75,994,575.
- The divorce rate reaches one in twelve marriages.
- Illiteracy in the United States is reduced to a new low of 10.7 percent of the population.
- Excavation begins on the New York City subway system, which will become the most extensive system in the United States.
- The tobacco industry produces four billion cigarettes, which remain less popular than cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco.
- Eight thousand passenger automobiles are registered in the United States. Of these, half are of European manufacture.
- The International Ladies Garments Workers Union is founded in New York City. Its membership is composed primarily of Jewish and Italian immigrants. Reformer Jacob Riis reports that women laboring in their homes for the garment industry make at most thirty cents a day.
- The number of telephones in use reaches 1,335,911.
- Short moving pictures become popular in vaudeville theaters across the nation. Generally under five minutes in length, they allow theater managers to sell candy between the live acts.
- Not wanting to waste the scraps of meat from his steak sandwiches, Louis Lassen grinds them up and sells the first hamburgers from his New Haven,...
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