…but before we leave you fully, we thought it might be fun to glance backward at the decade which nods in our wake here at the old “FF,” “The ‘Aughts, 1900-1910,” for if you were to fold the past century shut clam-wise and compare its ends, you may notice that its events are not altogether dissimilar. Let’s take a look:
- The decade begins with sudden loss and quick transition, the death of two prominent heads of state, one British and one American, one anticipated and one not, respectively. I speak of Queen Victoria and President William McKinley. Victoria’s queenship presided over six long and self-stamped decades, a planet-spanning empire rooted under her scepter. She passed in late January of 1901 of old age. Later in September of that same year, President McKinley was shot twice by Leon Frank Czolgosz, a Polish immigrant with a flare for fanaticism, with a handkerchief-wrapped .32 caliber Iver-Johnson revolver. President McKinley had begun to sprout a small empire of his own, and the young Czolgosz showed his dissatisfaction with twinned fire of bullets. The President died days afterward, to be succeeded by his Vice President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, a jovial New York cowboy with Coca-Cola spectacles and a walrus moustache. Roosevelt, with the romance of the West in his head, heart, and decree, developed upon his predecessors expansionist policies to the cheer of gunslingers and dismay of peace-wishers. His image was stonily stoic larger than life, little surprise this would later manifest itself literally on Mt. Rushmore decades afterward.
- The world of communication netted itself into a complex web-work which forever altered the face and consciousness of the country and planet. Telegraphs, telephones, electric light, recorded sound, motion pictures, and the wireless transmission of information and energy,
all infantile developments of the latter-half of the previous century, would branch fantastically onto the American scene in a wiry vascular arrangement of inter-connectivity. The pioneering works of men such as Samuel Morse, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, James Clark Maxwell, and Albert Einstein (who published his theory of Special Relativity in 1905) profoundly perturbed how we view, interpret and utilize the world around us. “Movies” flickered onto makeshift screens in converted storefronts dubbed “Nickelodeons”. Telegraphs sent text messages across land-masses and lapping oceans. Invisible scintilla carried radiated messages and song in what would come to be known as “radio”, thanks to the competing works of Tesla and Marconi. Music and speeches were able to become locked like fossils in solidified discs or cylinders of wax, thanks to Edison’s phonograph. Within this decade man took wing to the skies with the first engined and sustained aeroplane flight by the Wright Brothers in 1903– the frontiers of the human playground then knew one less fence. Distances seemed to shrink and family nuclei dissolve as automobiles provided rickety propulsion from the farmhouse, anchored in the wheatfield, towards the skyscraper-prickled cities in the distance. Buildings grew tall and slums grew wide. “Jazz” music took shape, a novel and bawdy sound of seeming incongruence to the trembling opera and bobbing waltzes we inherited from Western Europe. This stuff was new. “Ragtime” music, spearheaded by Scott Joplin, infused slave-derived West-African syncopation and percussive style, marching band upswing, and late Romantic luster. Concurrently, “Tin-Pan Alley,” a street in the Flatiron District of New York City, churned out jazzy sheet music and vaudeville acts with assembly line regularity. Composed of the ethnic poor of the Bowery, competition was fierce and frequent to produce a laugh and a tune, in ever-innovative ways. Irving Berlin, a poor Eastern-European Jew living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, emerged as a stellar American songwriter. Creative fields sprawled and lashed, suffusing elements of everyday life, in art forms both high and low. The “Cubist” movement reared itself in 1907 when Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque arranged figures with an almost crystalline planarity and vibrant color schemes onto canvas, undoing centuries-long attitudes on the rules of perspective. The “Art Nouveau” movement was also strongly afoot, A Parisian- based movement promoting color and curve, which later saw its influence impressed on common architecture and utility design. The movement had its larger opening to the public at the 50 million person attended “Exposition Universelle” in Paris in 1900. Poster Art and Comic books began to make innovate use of this bright new loopy look.
- For all the novel arts and invention, there was also war and economic panic. In 1907 there was an uproarious crash of the stock market, leading to a creaky currency and unsteady banks. This effect rippled for years after-wards (and, arguably, still is), eventually leading to the foundation of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913 and a graduated income tax system. The banking system was turned on its head, as was the system for the issuance of paper and coin currency. The breakout of War was seen across the globe: The Boxer Rebellion in Peking in 1900, skirmishes with Colombia over Panama between 1901-1902, interaction in Honduras in 1903, Marine involvement in the Dominican Republic in 1903, forces sent to protect the American Consulate in Beirut in 1903, the Russo-Japanese War broke between 1904-05, and a small involvement in Cuba between 1906 and 1907. William Randolph Hearst fanned the jingoistic flames with his yellow press, and detractors formed the “American Anti-Imperialist League”, which included such men as Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, and Edgar Lee Masters.
- In summary, the opening decade of the past century was every bit as tense, awe-inspiring, creatively bountiful, stuffy with pop-culture, and tumbling with tragedy as the opening decade of this century. We hope this gives you a few new angles of perspective on our cultural inheritance. Let’s do our very best to make this next decade as bountiful with beauty as we can, with the maximum minimization of harm. As Mark Twain said, regarding hope : “It is like any other agriculture: if you hoe it and harrow it and water it enough, you can make three blades of it grow where none grew before. If you’ve got nothing to plant, the process is slow and difficult, but if you’ve got a seed of some kind or other–any kind will answer–you get along a good deal faster.” (Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes)