Celebrating My 90th Birthday
March 11, 1997
My World Since1907
By James E. McEldowney
In Memory of Kent Schulz and Christy Conard Stories - Table of Contents Title and Comments

A wise man once said. "There is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9) Toward the close of the last century a noted scientist announced that science had achieved all that was possible, there would be nothing more new. I wish he were here to read this list of new things. I hadn't thought much about this before I had a very unusual experience recently.

My wife, Jeanne and my two daughters, Betty Ann and Barbara, had a birthday party for me on my 90th birthday. A very sweet one year old child, my wife's granddaughter, came with her parents. It was she who started me thinking, for as I watched her I was amazed to realized that I am 89 years older than she. What will her world be like in 90 years? Were the men of old right? or will the changes that have occurred during my lifetime continue during hers?

I was telling this to a small group the other day and one of the ladies spoke up and said, "Well I hope her world will be lots better than ours." If she is not satisfied with today's world, what would she have thought about my world, 90 years ago? And what was that world like? What changes have there been during my lifetime? I was amazed when I began to list the changes that have come during those years and I know that my list is not nearly complete.

As you read my list you will realize that our present day is not all that bad. And if all these things have happened in my 90 years, what will likely happen in the next 90 years. What will her world be like? Stretch your imagination!

Here is what I might call a beginning list:

  • In 1907, the year I was born, there were hardly any motor cars. Travel was by horse and buggy, stage coach, or train. What cars there were were hand-cranked and more like buggies. They had none of these things: automatic shift, balloon tires, shock absorbers, computerized electrical controls, door locking devices, safety glass, satisfactory lights, nor were they streamlined.
  • There were no motorcycles, scooters, golf carts, etc.
  • There were few trucks, and those were likely small and had solid rubber tires. Certainly no 18 wheelers or heavy moving equipment.
  • There were no paved roads, only dirt roads. The roads were not marked to make two or more lanes as they are today. There were no dual highways, interstate networks, cloverleaf intersections, large bridges, traffic lights, stop signs, yield signs, no-passing signs.
  • There were no gas stations, car maintenance garages. Gas was pumped by hand, no provision was made for oil change, water, air, and no self service.
  • Trains were simple affairs pulled by steam engines. Diesel trains like the Zephyrs came later. No pullman cars, no dining cars, no subways. Electric lights and heating in trains came later.
  • In big cities there were horse drawn street cars. Electric powered street cars came later, then motorized street cars.
  • The Wright brothers had flown an airplane but planes were not for commercial use until later. In 1907 there were no airports, runways, passenger lounges, no security devices, no baggage handling, stewardesses, meals or snacks. No jet engines or super jet planes. No helicopters.
  • There were no radios, no newscasts, no weather reports.
  • There was no television, black and white or colored, no programs, no soap operas, no children's programs, no advertising.
  • There was only the local store, no chain stores, super markets, malls, no extensive packaging.
  • There were no credit cards and banking was limited.
  • There were no professional sports for football, basketball, soccer, and no electronic game rooms.
  • When pictures were to be taken it was by a photographer with his big camera. There were no hand held cameras such as the box camera, the folding camera, the 35mm camera. No amateur movie cameras, either 8mm. or 16mm. No telephoto lenses, zoom lenses, automatic light and film speed control, no cameras with synchronized sound.
  • Early pictures were taken on glass plates. Film was soon to be introduced, first black and white of different sizes, then color, both for slides and for pictures. Built-in flash and high speed films were later developments.
  • Only some larger towns had picture theaters. There were no home projectors for either silent or sound film.
  • There were no tape recorders, using either wire or tape.
  • Nor were there any video cameras, video cassettes, or video stores.
  • A few homes had hand cranked record player, some records were on cylinders, some with scratchy flat discs. In time there was much improvement in recording and playback. In 1907 there were no home entertainment centers, amplifiers, speakers, nor were there car radios or car tape players.
  • In the kitchen there were no electric stoves, no refrigerators - only ice boxes, toasters, mixers, or other electrical gadgets.
  • Indoor toilets and bathrooms were largely unknown.
  • There were a few hand-cranked telephones and party lines. We knew nothing of direct dialing, phone networks, wireless phones, pagers.
  • Farmers had no gasoline tractors and only primitive equipment for preparing the soil, planting. cultivating, harvesting, storing. Such things as fertilizers, pest controls, hybrid corn, terraced hillsides came during my lifetime.
  • There were almost no electric gadgets. No garage door openers, no air conditioners, freezers, computers, calculators, solar energy, wind energy.
  • There were no vacuum cleaners, power mowers, laundry marts, or improved hand tools.
  • There were no plastics or synthetic cloth, synthetic rope, thread, and other materials. Zippers were a later invention.
  • The handicapped were in difficulties, no electronic hearing aids, no wheelchairs, walkers, plastic glasses, anti-biotics, medicines sold over the counter. No specialized hospital care.
  • It was long before Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, nursing homes, assisted living homes, retirement communities, the AARP, other Senior Citizen's organizations, social service agencies.
  • No women's lib., no mini skirts, bobbed hair, no long pants for boys. No child labor laws nor 40 hr. week for adults.
  • There was little if any effort to control ethnic, racial, religious discrimination. No school bussing, integration, racial balance, school meals.
  • There were no McDonalds or other such eateries. No mobile homes, or motor courts.
  • Little attention was given to physical exercise. There was hardly any physical exercise equipment. Professional body and hair care preparations were not on the market.
  • There were no frozen foods, home freezers or other cold storage, ice cream parlors, ice cream cones, candy bars, junk food, soft drinks.
  • There were no home swimming pools and little home playground equipment, except what was hand made.
  • There were no vacation spots for skiing, health spas, camping, etc. Nor were there RVs and RV camping sites.
  • The drug problem was unknown during most of my youth and middle-age.
  • The space program, walking on the moon, the Hubble telescope, much information about outer space came during my life-time.
  • We were largely ignorant about pollution and environmental concerns. Nor did we know tobacco was addictive and cancer causing.
  • As a result of four wars during my life the military equipment was greatly changed. Tanks, bombs, missals, automatic weapons, radar, submarines, came into use. Recently the military has been employed in humanitarian services.

    Some Things That Happened During My Lifetime

  • There was an experiment with prohibition.
  • Chautauqua programs came to small communities during the summer.
  • Life was more family oriented, fewer women worked outside the home.
  • There was a general sense of safety in the home, market place and on the streets day and night.
  • Community life centered around the school and churches.
  • Week ends were not commercialized but were family oriented.
  • Amusements were more supervised and for each neighborhood.
  • Children worked and learned the value of money.
  • Books were a source of enjoyment and instruction.
  • There were no gangs in my boyhood, some clubs, boy scouts, sports teams, church activities, etc.
  • There was music in the home and many communities had choruses as well as church choirs. Youth orchestras were encouraged.
  • Not until 1915 did my family have a car. Until then horses and buggy provided transportation.
  • My brother made the first radio in Kirkman, Iowa in 1921. It was a novelty. Some citizens came to listen to programs. Morris put the ear phone to the end of a victorola horn so they could hear the program.
  • Store bought clothes were an excepting. Mother made all our clothes for a number of years, out of suiting that was sent in the "missionary barrel" which came to us, because my father was a home missionary.
  • My father had been denied a musical education but he encouraged all his children to learn to play. We three boys had keen competition on the piano. We played trios together.
  • I bought my first cornet from money I earned when I was nine. Two years later I bought a better cornet.
  • My father paid for piano lessons for all of us children. When we took up other instruments we paid for the lessons with money we earned.
  • Children in the community played games together in the summer and coasted together in the winter.
  • At first we used oil lamps in our home and in the church. One home I lived in as late as 1919 had no electricity. We had no inside bathroom and toilet until I was a senior in high school. The outside toilet was called a privy. It sufficed, although barely when the temperature was below freezing. Baths were taken in a galvanized tub in front of the kitchen stove.

    We thought we were having the time of our lives and took advantage of improvements as they came along.

    So I wonder what the next 90 years will be like. From what has happened in the past decade, I can only imagine that there will be some amazing things happen in the future. I wish I could be here to see them. Jeanne's granddaughter will get to enjoy them and I hope they will challenger her and help her to live a happy and eventful life. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]

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