The “Turn of the Century”

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This post is an excerpt from the book, The Life and Times of Warren Webster, by Warren Webster, Jr.

At Midnight on the last day of the 19th Century, pistols barked, fire-crackers exploded, horns tooted, factory whistles shrieked and bells chimed solemnly—just as on other New Year Eves. But—though unrealized at the moment, this was no mere marking of the end of one man-fixed division of time and greeting a new. It was the passing into a literally New Age, where life would be rapidly surrounded by conditions so different as to be far beyond the imagination of any of those noisy, celebrating millions.

* * *

In the Fall of 1900, William McKinley was re-elected President, and Theodore Roosevelt, Vice-President, defeating William Jennings Bryan, Democrat, running on an anti-imperialistic platform. Both President and Vice-president were intensely popular.

In the Summer of 1901, after a tour of the Pacific Coast and a stop at his home-town of Canton, Ohio, the President visited the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition, and there, on September 6th, at a great reception held in his honor, he was shot and fatally wounded by Leon Czolgosz. He died on the 14th. Theodore Roosevelt was immediately sworn in as President to serve the unexpired term.

Warren Webster was then only thirty-seven years of age, yet three times within his lifetime had the flags hung at half mast for a murdered President. For Lincoln in 1865, for Garfield in 1881 and for McKinley in 1901. A super-man and two excellent men, the choice of a majority of the nation, struck down at the height of their usefulness by the hands of semi-lunatics!

Theodore Roosevelt at once gave evidence that his administration would be marked by reform and reorganization, achieved by vigorous direct action. His motto was “Speak softly but carry a big stick.”

Many of the vast, newly developed industries, such as the railroads, steel and oil, had acquired great power by methods which were often far from scrupulous. The struggle for legislation curbing these “trusts” and crooked politicians, termed by him “malefactors of great wealth,” continued throughout his administration.

One of his first acts was to send the American fleet on a successful cruise around the world, a project which had been condemned as impractical by naval experts both in the United States and Europe.

In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion in China, American forces participated in the relief of the foreign legations at Peking. Later the American Government returned to China more than one-half the indemnity, and has ever since held the Chinese respect and confidence.

Mr. Roosevelt’s next and most far-reaching achievement was the recognition of the Republic of Panama in its secession from Colombia and acquiring rights for the United States to build and control the Canal in perpetuity. The treaty was ratified on February 23, 1904, and excavation was begun in 1907.

In the elections of 1904, Mr. Roosevelt was opposed by Judge Alton B. Parker, running on the Democratic ticket, but the President won easily, with an electoral college plurality of 196.

In 1904-1905 was waged the Russo-Japanese War. Peace negotiations were initiated largely through Mr. Roosevelt’s efforts and the war was concluded by a treaty signed at Portsmouth, N. H.

In 1907 occurred a severe panic, disrupting what seemed to be very favorable business conditions. It is generally attributed to the efforts of F. Augustus Heinze and Charles W. Morse to combine banks, copper and other interests, as well as to the collapse of the Knickerbocker Trust Company. Public confidence in big business, however, had been previously undermined by the insurance scandals. The depression lasted more than a year, but normalcy was restored by the efforts of the Morgan and other great financial houses.

Due to the reaction to panic conditions, Mr. Roosevelt announced he would not be a candidate in 1908. He threw all his influence in favor of his then close friend and Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. Mr. Taft—opposed by William Jennings Bryan, who had been again nominated by the Democrats—was elected. Mr. Roosevelt then departed on an extended trip to Africa as a “hunter-naturalist,” during which he hunted and traveled over a large part of the Dark Continent and was received with royal honors in Europe.

* * *

Practically all of the present vast variety of mechanical apparatus is due to the development of three highly condensed and comparatively light-in-weight sources of power—the electric motor, the storage battery and the gasoline engine.

The electric motor is dependent on current generated by separate mechanism operated by separate power, the storage battery depends on separate electric current for re-charging, but the gasoline engine needs only fuel, lubricating oil and water (in most cases) for cooling.

All internal combustion engines—gas, oil or gasoline, are developments of the Otto (de Rochas) engine of 1876, and behind that was a research of a hundred and more years by various engineers. For some time before the “turn of the century” the internal combustion engine had made available to engineering such apparatus as hoists, pneumatic tools, and the like, which apparatus made easier canal building, tunneling and other construction work.

The gasoline motor was the instigator of the automobile. As far back as 1769, Cugnot had built and driven a steam-powered carriage in France. In Philadelphia, in 1804, Oliver Evans built his “Orukter Amphibilos,” a 30-foot scow-like contraption, with both wheels and paddles, and driven by a steam engine. He drove this device up Market Street for a mile-and-a-half and out into the Schuylkill. He then transferred the driving belts to the paddles and sailed down the Schuylkill and up the Delaware to Bristol, against the current, a distance of sixteen miles. Various other steam-driven vehicles are known to have been operated, notably a steam-driven passenger coach between Cheltenham and Gloucester, in England.

Gottlieb Daimler invented the internal-combustion motor, using “petroleum spirit.” He applied it to boats on the Seine, during the Exposition of 1887, and also to bicycles. In the same year, Levassor, of Panhard & Levassor, obtained the French rights from Daimler, designed a transmission system (substantially the same as used today) and built the first practical automobile.

In the United States, Haynes, Pullman, Duryea, Winton, Ford and several others took up the development of automobiles. In 1893, Henry Ford had his first car on the street, and the cars of other American builders appeared about the same time. In 1899 Ford built his second car. After this he produced two racers—both with 80-horsepower 4-cylinder motors, the “Arrow” and the “999.” Barney Oldfield, driving the “999” swept the field at Grosse Point racetrack, near Detroit, in October, 1901. Later, on the same track, he drove the “Arrow” against Alexander Winton’s “Bullet.”

In 1894, the Petit Journal sponsored a trial run between Paris and Rouen. In 1895 a race was staged between Paris and Bordeaux and return, 744 miles. The average speed of the winner was 15 miles per hour. From 1900 there were annual races for the Gordon Bennett Cup, which became a classic. There were also many city-to-city races, such as Paris to Madrid.

This period saw the development of the Stanley and White “Steamers” as well as many foreign steam cars. For a time the “steamer” was considered more reliable than the gasoline car and it appeared that development efforts might be directed particularly in that direction, but for one reason or another, the gasoline motor was finally favored.

In 1901, the United States Census stated that the Automobile Industry was too indefinite to give any value to statistics of capital invested, machinery and labor employed. But the automobile had arrived as a world-factor. How rapidly it was adapted to the American way of life is graphically shown by the following figures:

In France, in 1889, there were produced or in use, 1,438 pleasure cars and 234 industrial cars. Figures are not available for either Great Britain or Germany.

In the same year 600 cars of all kinds were produced in the United States.

In 1909, there were produced and in use in France 26,000 pleasure cars and 20,000 industrial cars; 183,773 motor vehicles of all kinds were registered in Great Britain; 41,941 motor vehicles of all kinds were in use in Germany; in the United States in that year, 114,891 motor vehicles were produced.

The story of the automobile in America in the intervening years is shown by the following figures:

On January 1, 1939, of the 43,810,946 motor vehicles in the whole world, 29,852,910 were registered in the United States.

The consumption of gasoline in the United States for the year, was 20,766,513,000 gallons. The total road and street mileage of the United States is estimated at 3,068,921 miles, of which about 90% is hard-surfaced.

While the automobile has been constantly improved in every respect, the building of roads has contributed vitally to its development. Even the best present-day cars would be in the shop most of the time had they to negotiate the old-time roads at anything like present speeds.

The whole effect has been to change the living-habits and opportunities of at least 90% of the population. The facilities of a city are now available to all living within a radius of fifty miles or more. Folks who used to shop from a mail order catalog now buy in the neighboring town the identical goods being displayed in New York. Educational institutions are no longer planned to meet the needs of a single neighborhood but of an entire district.

On the other hand, products can now be transported to markets in a few hours instead of days. These changes have all been brought about since the “turn of the century,” quickening in tempo in almost exact ratio to the building of roads and development of automobiles—whether in the form of pleasure cars, buses or trucks.

* * *

Contemporaneous with the automobile came the motion picture to assume a key position in the mosaic of twentieth century life. As early as 1824, Peter Mark Roget investigated the laws of vision with reference to moving objects, recording his conclusions in a paper. Michael Faraday continued Roget’s investigations.

Then Dr. Plateau, of Ghent, and Dr. Von Stampfer, of Vienna, produced what was probably the first moving picture machine.

They mounted hand-drawn pictures, in sequence, on the rim of a disc. These were observed through corresponding slits on a parallel disc revolving on the same axis. In 1863, Baron Franz Von Uchatius, an Austrian, combined the disc with a magic lantern and projected the pictures on a screen.

In 1860, Coleman Sellers, of Philadelphia, applied photography to moving picture effects. He photographed poses of motion and presented the results on the blades of a paddle-wheel device. He patented the machine as the “Kinematoscope,” February, 1861.

On April 25, 1864, Louis Arthur Ducos de Hauron, of France, filed a patent application which was in effect an almost complete anticipation of the motion picture. It never got beyond the paper stage.

Henry Renno Heyl, of Philadelphia, on February 5, 1870, projected photographic pictures made on the Sellers principle, using small glass plates. He called the machine the “Phasmatrope.”

In 1872, Leiand Stanford—railroad magnate of California, became interested in investigating the gaits of a horse. He engaged Eadweard Muybridge to make photographs of the motion of a horse. Muybridge’s first efforts failed and he was compelled to discontinue his experiments on account of a domestic tragedy.

Stanford turned the commission over to John D. Isaacs. By using a battery of cameras, with shutters controlled electrically, Isaacs successfully made the first photographs of objects in rapid motion.

On August 24, 1891, Thomas A. Edison filed patent claims for a moving-picture machine. It was not, however, until he obtained samples of the first nitro-cellulose film from the Eastman Kodak Company that he was able to perfect the “Kinetoscope,” patent on which was granted August 31, 1897. James J. Corbett, then heavyweight champion of the world, was the first boxer to pose for the “movies” in Edison’s “Black Maria” booth at Menlo Park, N. J., sometime in 1893. The machine was first presented commercially in New York, April 14, 1894. Hundreds were sold throughout the world, showing portions of prize-fights, dances and vaudeville skits. These views showed only about 15 seconds of action.

The quest now centered on projectors. In 1875, Louis and Auguste Lumiere, of Lyons, brought out the “Cinematographe.”

In 1895, Thomas Armat and C. Francis Jenkins brought out what was practically the modern projector.

The motion picture development was now disrupted by a series of litigations for patent rights and priorities, which lasted for ten years. Nevertheless, it progressed.

On March 17, 1897, Enoch J. Rector successfully photographed the Corbett- Fitzsimmons fight at Carson City, Nevada, exposing 11,000 feet of film. In the same year, Rich G. Hollaman, of Eden Musee, in New York, staged a version of the “Passion Play” on a roof, using 3000 feet of film. Fadeouts, double exposures, dissolves and other camera expedients that have become part of the motion picture technique were now used by George Melies of the Theatre Robert Houdin, Paris.

In 1903, Edwin S. Porter, of the Edison Studios, New York City, produced “The Great Train Robbery” about 800 feet in length. This was the first “story picture” produced in America.

In November, 1905, Harry Davis, real estate operator, opened a theater with “The Great Train Robbery,” as the attraction and charging a five-cent admission. A wave of five-cent theaters swept the country. Came more “story pictures,” which became longer and more detailed, until they assumed the form of picture pantomimes, explained by captions.

David Wark Griffith, a stage-actor, entered the services of the American Biograph Company as a scenario writer and proved a genius in story-telling for the screen and in taking advantage of close-ups, fadeouts, double exposures and other effects made possible by the camera.

Not only stories but travelogues, industrial pictures and news began to make their appearance on the screen. The makeshift halls and basements in which the “movies” were first shown began to give way to theaters especially planned for motion picture displays—and admissions were increased. By 1912, when Adolph Zukor, in partnership with Edwin S. Porter, Daniel Frohman and others, imported “Queen Elizabeth,” played by the immortal Sarah Bernhardt and produced by Louis Mercanton, of Paris, and George Klein imported “Quo Vadis” from Italy, the “movies” had become the “photo-play” and taken its place among the arts.

* * *

In the year 1900, in the hospitals of Cuba, yellow fever was taking a toll of American lives unapproached by that of Spanish bullets during the war. In that year, as for many years, Dr. Carlos Finlay, of Havana, kept shouting: “Yellow fever is caused by a mosquito!”

And so to Quemados, Cuba, came the Yellow Fever Commission—Dr. (Major) Walter Reed and his assistants, Drs. Jesse Lazear, James Carroll and Aristides Agramonte, a Cuban. They decided to heed Dr. Finlay’s cry and center investigation on the mosquito.

Drs. Carroll and Lazear, William Dean and seven anonymous heroes were the first to volunteer and submit to be bitten by fever-blood-fed mosquitoes. Carroll almost died. Dr. Lazear submitted to being bitten on September 13th—and died, miserably and gloriously, on September 25th.

Reed then sought and obtained permission to call for more volunteers to act as human “guinea pigs.” There was to be a gratuity of from $200 to $300 for the volunteers. Private Kissinger, of Ohio, and John J. Moran, civilian clerk, were the first volunteers, stipulating to their everlasting credit that they did so solely “in the interest of Science and for Humanity” and were not to be paid. They were followed by four “Spanish immigrants”—names unknown. None died.

In the final “proving” of the experiment, Dr. Cooke and two soldiers—Levi E. Folk and Warren Gladsden Jemegan, allowed themselves to be confined for twenty days and nights in a horrible “experimental shack,” lying on cots, bedding and pillows (even wearing clothes) covered with the indescribable filth of men who had died of yellow fever. Mosquitoes were rigidly excluded. The discomfort must have been terrible. But none of the men contracted yellow fever.

Then the conditions were reversed. An absolutely clean and sterilized “shack”—but with fever-contaminated mosquitoes. John J. Moran went into this shack for eighteen days and developed yellow fever. In another division of the shack, with only a fine screen between, two other volunteers lived throughout the entire period. They never had a trace of yellow fever.

The matter was proved. The mosquito was convicted. And to Cuba came William Crawford Gorgas (he who later cleaned up the Canal Zone) and went into action against the Stegomyia mosquito—a hunt which was taken up in every fever land until yellow fever has practically disappeared.

And the rewards? The widows of Reed, Carroll and Lazear were voted the princely pension of $1500 a year. Kissinger of Ohio was induced to accept $115 and a gold watch. He fell into poor health and his wife supported him by taking in washing.

The others received a maximum of $300.

In 1896, Guglieimo Marconi, of Italy, went to England, and on June 2nd of that year was granted the first patent ever issued for wireless telegraphy based on the use of electric waves—which was in turn the practical application of the discoveries of Hertz, Lodge, Right and a host of other investigators and experimenters in that field.

After establishing the practicability of wireless over short distances, Marconi, on December 12, 1901, transmitted and received messages between Cornwall and Newfoundland. Wireless then quickly demonstrated its utility on ships, providing a means for vessels to keep in touch with shore and other ships and summon aid in case of disaster. Its first military use was by the British in the Boer War.

Marconi encountered the inevitable counter-claims to prior invention, involving him in much litigation. His claims, however, were clinched by the support of Thomas A. Edison. This was the more convincing for, as we have already mentioned, Edison himself devised a system of telegraphy without wires and filed patent claims on May 23, 1885. Furthermore, the system was in actual operation between trains and stations of the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1886, being known as the “Grasshopper Telegraph.”

The use of wireless spread. About ten years later, through the inventions of Dr. Lee DeForest, of Chicago, and others, it developed into wireless telephony, or as it is generally known, the radio. Today, by means of radio, it is possible to speak, sing and play to the whole world. In its wide ramifications as disseminator of information and amusement, the radio has now become as much a part of civilized life as the kitchen stove.

* * *

In 1895, Dr. Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen discovered the “Roentgen Rays,” or as it is generally known, the “X-Rays,” which since the “turn of the century” has played so important a part in medical and dental surgery and scientific research generally.

From this has been developed the whole medical science of radiotherapy and roentgenology through which marvelous results have been already achieved and far more are predicted.

* * *

From the 15th of October, 1783, when Pilatre de Rosier made an ascent in a fire-balloon, built after the ideas of the Montgolfier brothers, man had been fascinated by the idea of flying. Not content with his partial success in gas-filled balloons, attention was turned to the heavier-than-air machine, more nearly approximating the birds.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Professor Langley had built a model machine embodying all the necessary elements for flight—except a gasoline engine.

On December 17, 1903, for the first time in recorded history, a heavier-than-air machine, carrying a man, arose by its own power from the dunes of Kitty Hawk, N. C., and flew—with and against the wind, in definite control. It was operated by Wilbur Wright, of Dayton, Ohio, and invented by himself and his brother Orville.

This event, destined to revolutionize transportation and military tactics and to play the deciding role in the fate of nations, was “covered” by a single obscure newspaper [Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, December 18, 1903. –ed.], in one clear story, perhaps the greatest scoop of all time, to which nothing has been added through the years.

The development of the airplane was rapid: On October 5, 1905, the Wright machine, with one of the brothers, flew twenty-four miles near Dayton. On September 21, 1908, Wilbur Wright won the Michelin Prize in France, covering a distance of fifty-six miles. In December of the same year Wright flew seventy-seven miles at LeMans.

On July 25, 1909, Louis Bleriot flew the English Channel. And in 1938—thirty-five years after the immortal exploit at Kitty Hawk, at the “turn of the century,” Howard Hughes completed a flight around the world in—3 days-19 hours-8 minutes-10 seconds!

* * *

In the historic West Indian island of Martinique, on May 8, 1902, occurred one of the most frightful catastrophes of all time. An eruption of the volcano of Mont Pele poured lava, smoke and gases over the town. The destruction was complete and more than 40,000 persons—the entire population, perished in the inferno. Only one vessel succeeded in escaping from the harbor—the Roddam.

Early in the morning of April 18, 1906, repeated earthquake shocks reduced one-sixth of the great city of San Francisco to crumbled heaps and five days of fire consumed almost everything burnable in the debris to ashes. The devastation included the largest hotels, banks, office buildings and churches and the famous “Nob Hill” where were the mansions of the mining, lumber and railroad “kings.” The loss was placed at $200,000,000. The loss of lives was conservatively estimated as far in excess of 1,000.

On January 14, 1907, a prolonged earthquake, followed by fire, destroyed almost every building in the city and outlying districts of Kingston, Jamaica. More than 1,000 persons lost their lives in the disaster and the monetary loss was so great it was termed complete.

* * *

On April 6, 1909, the dreams of generations of daring adventurers was at last realized by Commander Robert E. Peary, as after years of striving and enduring, he stood at the top of the world, accompanied by his gallant negro servant and a few Eskimos. He returned to civilization to find his claims disputed by Dr. F. A. Cook, another American, who claimed to have reached the Pole on April 21, 1908. Cook was honored by Denmark and several European countries and received a triumph in the United States. However, the findings of the University of Copenhagen declared that his observations furnished no proof on which to base claims of discovery. Peary’s claims have never been disputed.

Captain Roald Amundsen discovered the South Pole on December 14, 1911. Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Captain Oates and Petty Officer Evans also reached the South Pole on January 18, 1912.

They were bitterly disappointed on finding Amundsen’s tent—and realized that they had been forestalled. They all perished on the return journey. Their bodies were found in a hut by Dr. Alkinson, November 12, 1912.

The Twentieth Century was on its way!


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