When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1900s

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

Royal Disease

King Alfonso XIII of Spain, painted by Román Navarro

1907: The discovery that Leopold, the eighth of Queen Victoria’s nine children, suffered from the hereditary genetic disorder haemophilia, meant that the queen’s daughters might also carry the defective gene. Even if they displayed no signs of the disorder, they could transmit it to their children.

Continue reading

Deter’s Disease

Alois Alzheimer’s patient Auguste Deter, photographed in 1901

1906: Auguste Deter died on 8 April at the age of 55. She had been a patient at the Asylum for the Insane and Epileptic in Frankfurt am Main since 1901. Alois Alzheimer had taken a particular interest in Deter’s case, and after she died he examined her brain. Alzheimer discovered that she had been afflicted by a “peculiar disease of the cerebral cortex” – the first documented instance of the form of dementia that would be named after him. (Alzheimer’s earlier medical studies had taken him in a very different direction; his doctoral thesis had been on the wax-producing glands of the ear.)

Source: Konrad Maurer and Ulrike Maurer, Alzheimer: The Life of a Physician and the Career of a Disease (2003), pp. 41–2, 151–63

Smoke + Fog = Smog

1905: During the last two decades of the 19th century, the amount of coal transported annually to London by rail, sea and canal increased from 10 million to 16 million tonnes. Each day, more than 200 tonnes of fine soot were discharged into the city’s atmosphere. In 1905, Dr. Henry Des Voeux of the Coal Abatement Society merged “smoke” and “fog” to coin a new term for the pollution – “smog”.

Source: Turner Whistler Monet, ed. Katharine Lochnan (2004), pp. 52, 236

Friendy Wendy

1904: J.M. Barrie’s circle of young friends included Margaret Henley, daughter of the poet W.E. Henley. She called Barrie her “friendy” – or rather, her “wendy”, since she couldn’t properly pronounce “friendy”. That appealed to Barrie, who used Wendy as the name for a leading character in his play Peter Pan – its first use as a girl’s name.

Source: Lisa Chaney, Hide-and-Seek with Angels: A Life of J.M. Barrie (2005), p. 217

Margaret Henley, photographed in about 1893

Tossed Aside

King Alexander I of Serbia and Queen Draga, photographed in about 1900

1903: Before dawn on 11 June, officers of the Serbian army forced their way into the royal palace in Belgrade. Alexander I was an unpopular monarch; he was high-handed, reactionary, and his marriage to a former lady-in-waiting had scandalised many. The officers had come to kill him. They blew in doors with dynamite and frantically searched the darkened palace. After two hours, the intruders discovered the royal couple in a concealed alcove. They killed the king and his queen, riddled their bodies with bullets, slashed them with sabres and tossed them into the garden.

Continue reading

Death And Destruction On Martinique

Postcard depiction of the town of Saint-Pierre after the eruption of Mount Pelée

1902: Throughout the last week of April and the first week of May, underground detonations shook Mount Pelée, on the Caribbean island of Martinique. The volcano belched smoke and showered ash on the nearby town of Saint-Pierre. At 8 o’clock on the morning of 8 May the side of the volcano ripped open, and a cloud of superheated gas, ash and rock spewed out, hurtled down the mountainside and engulfed Saint-Pierre. The town and its inhabitants were incinerated. Out of a population of 26,000, only two survived: Léon Compère-Léandre, a cobbler, and Louis-Auguste Sylbaris, who had been incarcerated in the solitary confinement cell of the town jail.

Source: Alwyn Scarth, La Catastrophe: Mount Pelée and the Destruction of Saint-Pierre, Martinique (2002), pp. 112–21, 127–8, 183–9

Primogeniture

Kaiser Wilhelm II, photographed by court photographer T.H. Voigt in 1902

1901: Queen Victoria died; Edward VII became king. If, however, the throne had passed to the firstborn child, regardless of sex, Victoria would have been succeeded by her daughter Vicky. And consider this: when Vicky died, as she did just a few months later, her eldest child, Wilhelm, would have become king. Already kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm would have also become William V of Britain.

Source: The Independent, 7 July 2006

In Hot Water

1900: “Old Warren is a duffer,” was General Redvers Buller’s verdict on his second-in-command after the carnage at Spion Kop. Buller’s assessment wasn’t altered at Hussar Hill, a few weeks later, when he found General Charles Warren splashing about in a bathtub on the battlefield instead of fighting the Boers.

Source: Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (1979), pp. 322, 365–6

High Flyer

Vaslav Nijinsky, portrayed by John Singer Sargent

1909: Ballerina Tamara Karsavina recounted how Vaslav Nijinsky “rose up, a few yards off the wings, described a parabola in the air, and disappeared from sight. No one of the audience could see him land; to all eyes he floated up and vanished.” Nijinsky’s leaps, defiant of gravity, caused a sensation in Paris. How did he accomplish them? Were they difficult? “No! No!” he replied, “not difficult. You have just to go up and then pause a little up there.”

Source: Tamara Karsavina, Theatre Street (1930), pp. 240, 241–2