When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1900s

Never Give Up

Robert Peary, photographed in 1909 by Benjamin B. Hampton

1909: Did Robert Peary lead the first expedition to reach the North Pole? Did he really get there?

Many believed Peary’s claim that he and a party of five reached the Pole on 6 April, but others were sceptical. Doubters pointed out that Peary’s expedition notes were scanty and slapdash; none of his companions during the final attempt on the Pole was capable of making navigational observations; and some of the distances Peary claimed to have covered across the Arctic pack ice were frankly incredible.

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Reger’s Retort

German composer and pianist Max Reger

1906: Writing in the Münchener Neueste Nachrichten on 7 February, music critic Rudolf Louis panned Max Reger’s Sinfonietta for “conjuring up the illusion of significance by a thousand contrapuntal tricks”.

Reger bristled. “I am sitting in the smallest room of my house,” he wrote in reply. “I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me.” (“Ich sitze in dem kleinsten Zimmer in meinem Hause. Ich habe Ihre Kritik vor mir. Im nachsten Augenblick wird sie hinter mir sein.”)

Source: Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time (2000), p. 139

Forcibly Ejected

1905: Richard Creedon was employed as a “sandhog” – one of the labourers who constructed the tunnels for New York’s subway system. On 27 March, while he was working in a pressurised air chamber beneath the bed of the East River, the roof of the chamber sprang a leak. Creedon attempted to plug the hole, but it suddenly widened into a blowout, and the pressurised air forced him through the hole, like a cork out of a champagne bottle. Creedon was propelled through 8 metres of silt and water, flung high into the air, then dumped in the river. Although dazed, he was unhurt, and claimed, with a touch of bravado: “I was flying through the air, and before I comes down I had a fine view of the city.”

Source: New York History, January 1999

Sign Of Maturity

Edith Sitwell, painted by Roger Fry in 1915

1904: Writing home from Paris, where she had been sent to finish her education, 17-year-old Edith Sitwell described the changes to her pubescent body: “I am growing eyebrows. One can see them distinctly.”

Source: Richard Greene, Edith Sitwell: Avant-Garde Poet, English Genius (2011), p. 48

Tiger At The Raffles

1902: Staff at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore were scared out of their wits one night when a tiger peered into the billiard room. Like many buildings in Southeast Asia, the billiard room was raised off the ground to protect against flooding. Next morning the tiger was discovered hiding beneath the room. A marksman was summoned, and the animal was shot and killed. The tiger, it transpired, was absent without leave from a nearby circus. Over the coming years, various accounts embroidered the story of the tiger, the last to be shot in Singapore. Instead of being shot under the billiard room, it was shot in the billiard room under the billiard table.

Source: Ilsa Sharp, There Is Only One Raffles: The Story of a Grand Hotel (1981), pp. 35–7

Death In Balangiga

1901: Uncle Sam arrived in the Philippines as a liberator and stayed on as a coloniser. Filipinos resisted, of course, but they were no match for the U.S. Army. One of the few Filipino successes was at Balangiga, on the island of Samar. On 28 September, armed only with machetes, guerrillas surprised the American garrison at breakfast, killing 54 and wounding 20 out of 78. American retribution was brutal. General Jacob Smith promised to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness” and ordered his troops to kill all islanders aged 10 or over.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Balangiga_massacre

Mailed Fist

1900: Angered by tram workers on strike in Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm II dispatched a tetchy telegram to the commander of the Guards Corps: “I expect at least five hundred people to be shot when the troops intervene.”

Source: John C.G. Röhl, Wilhelm II: Into the Abyss of War and Exile 1900–1941 (2014), p. 139

Saddle-Sore

1909: Cyclists in the inaugural Giro d’Italia crossed the finish line in Milan on 30 May. After eight stages and 2,445 bumpy, dusty kilometres of road, the overall winner was Luigi Ganna, a bricklayer. Asked how he felt, Ganna replied: “L’impressione più viva l’è che me brusa tanto ’l cu.” (Rough translation: “My arse is killing me.”)

Source: John Foot, Pedalare! Pedalare!: A History of Italian Cycling (2012), p. 15

Temporary Setback

Chester Nimitz, photographed in about 1945

1908: Eighteen months after he was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy, Chester Nimitz was in command of the destroyer Decatur when it ran aground on a mudbank in Batangas Bay, in the Philippines. Nimitz was court-martialled and found guilty of “neglect of duty”. He was relieved of his command, but his mistake had no lasting effect on his career; he moved up the ranks and in December 1941 was put in command of the U.S. fleet in the Pacific.

Source: Brayton Harris, Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater (2011), pp. 15–19

Monkey Business

1906: On the afternoon of 16 November, Enrico Caruso was arrested in New York’s Central Park for “annoying” a female visitor to the monkey house.

Monkey business in the monkey house? Clearly, proclaimed the arresting officer. Certainly not, protested Caruso. Did the Italian opera star foist himself on the young lady? Was she the innocent victim of Caruso’s unwanted attentions? Unfortunate woman.

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Pink Pills

1905: Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People promised to cure anaemia, gastritis, lumbago, rheumatism and a host of other aches and ailments. Like most patent medicines, Dr. Williams’ pills promised much and cured little, but a catchy name and vigorous advertising ensured that they made pots of money for their Canadian manufacturer and distributor, George Fulford.

Source: Peter G. Homan, Briony Hudson and Raymond C. Rowe, Popular Medicines: An Illustrated History (2008), chap. 19

Lenin The Sportsman

1904: Nikolai Valentinov got to know Vladimir Lenin in Geneva, where the Bolshevik leader was living with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya. Valentinov’s Encounters with Lenin gives glimpses of Lenin’s domestic life. He liked to walk in the country and enjoyed picnics. He swam well and skated well. He exercised on the trapeze and on rings. He was very good at billiards. Before starting work each morning, he dusted his books and put them in order. He cleaned his shoes until they shone. If he lost a button, he would sew on another himself, and this he did “better than Nadya”.

Source: Nikolay Valentinov, Encounters with Lenin (1968), pp. 79–80

Excited Elgar

1901: “Gosh! man I’ve got a tune in my head.” The effervescent composer was Edward Elgar, writing to his friend August Jaeger, and the tune was the trio section of the first Pomp and Circumstance march, later set to words in “Land of Hope and Glory”.

Source: Jerrold Northrop Moore, Elgar and His Publishers: Letters of a Creative Life (1987), vol. I, p. 267

On Guard Against 9/11

1909: Ninety years before the 9/11 attacks in the United States, Russia’s political police were sufficiently perceptive to realize that aircraft might be used as terrorist weapons, and began to monitor the activities of aviators, would-be aviators and flying clubs.

Source: Charles A. Ruud, Fontanka 16: The Tsar’s Secret Police (1999), p. 70

Not Just For Eating

1907: In 1870, there were 30,000 orange trees in California; 20 years later, there were 1.1 million. At the start of the 20th century, Californian citrus growers ran the risk of producing more oranges than they could sell, and with recently planted trees set to begin bearing fruit, the problem was likely to worsen.

Growers faced a stark choice – reduce supply or increase demand. So, in 1907, the California Fruit Growers Exchange teamed up with Lord & Thomas advertising agency. The growers adopted the name Sunkist for their produce; the advertisers launched energetic sales campaigns and devised snappy slogans.

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Green Girls

André Derain, photographed in about 1903

1906: The young girls of London, André Derain wrote to Henri Matisse, have faces “made to stand out in the misty streets or in the cold calm of English interiors”: “very blond hair, untidily wound up, with plaits tight around a matt-ivory coloured face, with their lips and cheeks lightly tinted pink, which makes the skin green”.

Source: Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen et al., André Derain: The London Paintings (2005), p. 133

Chance Discovery

1905: Edgar Purnell Hooley patented Tarmac in 1902. The story goes that Hooley, a county surveyor, came upon a hard-wearing and dust-free stretch of road. Tar had been spilled on the surface and slag from a nearby ironworks used to cover it. Hooley set up a company to exploit his discovery – The Tar Macadam (Purnell Hooley’s Patent) Syndicate Ltd., which in 1905 was renamed Tarmac Ltd.

Source: J.B.F. Earle, A Century of Road Materials: The History of the Roadstone Division of Tarmac Ltd (1971), pp. 16–17

“Worse Than Baboons”

1904: “Just look at us. [We’re treated like] Dogs, slaves, worse than the baboons on the rocks.” In January, the Herero people of German South-West Africa could stand it no longer, and rebelled against their colonial oppressors. Defeated at the battle of Waterberg in August, they fled into the eastern desert. To make sure they didn’t come back, General Lothar von Trotha issued a Vernichtungsbefehl, or extermination order: “Every Herero found within the German borders, armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, will be shot.” By the summer of 1905, in the first genocide of the 20th century, three-quarters of the original Herero population of 80,000 had been killed.

Source: Jon M. Bridgman, The Revolt of the Hereros (1981), pp. 38–131

One Man’s Poison

1902: One man’s poison is another man’s meat. The abrupt postponement of Edward VII’s coronation (caused by the king’s appendicitis) meant that delicacies destined for coronation banquets were distributed instead to London’s poor. Soup kitchen menus briefly included prawns, oysters and Dover sole poached in Chablis, as well as quail, snipe and consommé de faisan aux quenelles.

Source: Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (1999), p. 823

Crammed Coffin

1901: Victoria’s coffin was crammed with her favourite shawls and embroidered handkerchiefs, her wedding veil, Prince Albert’s dressing gown, a model of Albert’s hand, numerous lockets and bracelets, family photographs, a photograph of John Brown and a lock of his hair. There were so many mementos that there was barely room for the queen herself. Luckily she was a short woman.

Source: Jerrold M. Packard, Farewell in Splendour: The Death of Queen Victoria and Her Age (2000), pp. 199–201

Suffragette Colours

1909: Mappin & Webb advertised “suffragette jewellery” in purple, white and green: brooches and pendants set with amethysts, pearls and emeralds. Shoemakers Lilley & Skinner introduced “bedroom slippers in velvet and quilted satin specially dyed in the colours”. And a certain Miss Smith, of Barnham, in Sussex, also specialised in the purple, white and green of the suffragettes – in her case, sweet pea seeds sold by mail order.

Source: Diane Atkinson, The Purple, White & Green: Suffragettes in London 1906–14 (1992), pp. 20, 21, 25

Cat Out Of The Bag

1908: Aspiring novelist D.H. Lawrence let the eugenic cat out of the bag:
“If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly; then I’d go out in the back streets and main streets and bring them in, all the sick, the halt, and the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile me a weary thanks; and the band would softly bubble out the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.”

Source: D.H. Lawrence, The Letters of D.H. Lawrence: vol. I: September 1901–May 1913, ed. James T. Boulton (1979), pp. 79–81