Life in 1904: Dying at 47, 4-cent sugar


As we close out the year, it is interesting to look back on what life was like 100 years ago.
In the year 1904, according to an interesting fact sheet, the average life expectancy in the United States was 47 years.
There were 8,000 cars in the country, and only 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 miles per hour.
Only 14 percent of the homes had the luxury of a bathtub.
Only 8 percent had a telephone. Who would you call, if only 8 percent of the entire population had a telephone? The cost of a phone call from Denver to New York City, lasting only three minutes, cost $11.
Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and Tennessee were more populated than California, where wide open spaces remained beautiful, unspoiled. The population in Las Vegas was 30!
Numbers. Wages remain hard to visualize, because the cost of everything was much lower. The average wage in the United States was 22 cents an hour, with the average worker earning around $200-$400 a year. The average veterinarian earned somewhere between $1,500-$4,000 a year. A good accountant might earn up to $2,000 a year, with dentists averaging around $2,500 per year. Mechanical engineers could earn close to $5,000.
Those wages went a bit further toward purchasing the essentials.
Sugar cost 4 cents a pound. Eggs cost 14 cents a dozen. Many farm women raised chickens just to have eggs to sell for a little extra spending money. Coffee was 15 cents a pound.
Baths and more. Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
More than 95 percent of all births took place in the home. Most women did not reveal that they were expecting a child. It was simply not discussed.
Ninety percent of all U.S. physicians had no college degree. Medical schools provided diplomas, many of which were condemned by the press and by the government.
Most doctors were scorned as drunkards and hooligans. Many were paid in goods, such as a sack of potatoes or turnips for a house call.
Flags, towers and death. The American flag had 45 stars. Canada passed a law prohibiting poor people from entering the country for any reason. The Eiffel Tower was the tallest structure in the world.
The five leading causes of death in the United States in 1904 were: pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, followed by heart disease, then stroke.
Crossword puzzles, canned beer and iced tea hadn’t been invented.
There was no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Two out of 10 adults in the United States couldn’t read or write. Only 6 percent of all American adults had graduated high school.
Drugs, murder. Marijuana, heroin and morphine were all available over the counter at neighborhood drugstores. According to one pharmacist, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”
Eighteen percent of all American households had at least one full-time servant or domestic. In 1904, there were only about 230 murders reported in the entire country.
What’s next? What a different place and time. One hundred years have passed, and it would have been impossible in 1904 to imagine such things as computers in nearly every home, the incredible high-speed Internet, on-line banking, DVD players and so much more.
The big question that arises is just what will 100 years from now be like? Hard to even attempt to imagine, isn’t it?


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.