Life In 1909 – Random News And Advertising

What Was Happening On January 21, 1909

I picked a random day 103 years ago to see what was in the news. I read the entire New York Times newspaper for Thursday, January 21, 1909 to come up with the some interesting stories and unusual items.  The paper was only 18 pages! The major differences compared to current newspapers: few photographs accompany any story and  articles of different types are interspersed on the same page, so the news is not sectioned by category.  I have put the article summary in blue and my comments are in black italics.

Crowds flocked to the Auto Show at Madison Square Garden. Lots of famous people showed up including Colonel John Jacob Astor and Mr. & Mrs. George J. Gould. There was a selection in gasoline powered and electric cars on display.

Not many people realize that in the early days of automobile manufacturing gasoline and electric cars were battling for market share. Steam cars were also an option, but were left unmentioned in the article.  Before 1909 over 600 companies in the United States had at one time started manufacturing automobiles and half of them had already run out of business.  An estimated 200,000 automobiles were in use in the United States according to the  Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers. What would our current energy situation be like today had the electric car won the battle for vehicular supremacy over the gasoline powered engine?

An advertisement for Renault showed they led all automobile companies in US imports with 214 in 1907 and 244 in 1908.

The runner-up for sales in each year (by half as much) were in order: Mercedes, Fiat and Panhard?!

The Conference Committee of the Independent Telephone Officers to meet the following week on plans to build a long distance telephone line from Boston to Omaha. The cost: $5,000,000 immediate expenditure and $30,000,000 over the next four years!

Thirty plus years after the invention of the telephone, telecommunications were still a luxury and although most people did not own a telephone, there were 7.6 million telephones in the United States by 1910.

President Roosevelt urged California lawmakers to stop bills that would make the Japanese reside in areas by themselves separated from the rest of the population.

Anti-foreigner feelings came along with the flood of immigration that took place at the turn of the century.  Theodore Roosevelt was also concerned about what the Japanese could do in retaliation to American citizens residing in Japan if such bills passed in California.

In Middletown, NY three men ambushed an immigrant couple and their friend shooting the friend fatally and the husband was at the time of the report dying of his wounds. No motive was immediately discovered but the wife Mrs. Gaetano, 18, was reported to be extremely attractive. She was taken against her will to a cabin in nearby Summit and held there, until being discovered after her captors had left.

The Times got several key facts wrong, first, the name of the woman was Mrs Gaetano Finizio and she was 20 years old, not 18. I will be writing about this amazing story in detail at a later date.

Artist Charles Dana Gibson  wept at the play “What Every Woman Knows” starring Maude Adams. When Gibson’s wife asked why he was still crying after the play was over, he replied, “I am not crying now on the account of the play, but because of the other plays I have seen since I came back to America.”

What a remarkable statement by Charles Dana Gibson creator of “The Gibson Girl” about Maude Adams acting ability or the poor qualities of the other plays Gibson had witnessed.

The New York Times announced they would hold a competition for students across the city to write compositions about Abraham Lincoln for the upcoming Centenary of Lincoln’s birth.  200 cash prizes totaling $1,000 and 1000 Tiffany silver spoons will be given to the best compositions broken down by age groups.

In 2009 not as much of a to-do was made of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth as with the centennial. In 1909 it was a big deal. Lincoln had only been dead forty-four years.

Jupiter’s Eighth satellite (moon) was photographed at the Greenwich observatory.

Interesting fact which you may not have known: Jupiter has 64 moons. The eighth is named Pasiphae.

In Montclair, NJ the colored residents of the town want a hotel erected for the use of other negroes.  The leader of the negroes says such a hotel has become a necessity.

Apparently blacks were not welcome in the hotels in Montclair.

Rogers, Peet and Company was selling at their three Broadway locations, evening dress suits for $35-$70 and tuxedo suits from $27 – $48.

Rogers, Peet and Company was one of the first clothiers to put price tags on clothing. They also offered money back guarantees, at a time when few clothiers did. A New York institution since 1874, Cluett, Peabody & Company who had taken over the firm, announced in January 1978 they would close the final Rogers, Peet store at 485 Fifth Avenue. Somehow the store limped on until 1984 when its final print ad  on March 14, 1984 declared “everything must go.” A Godafther’s Pizza store claimed the location after the closing.

Charles De Bost of 259 West 93rd Street claimed to have some of the oldest baseball’s in existence. He is the son of Charles Schuyler De Bost, the captain and catcher of the Knickerbocker baseball club when baseball was in its infancy. The baseball’s De Bost showed to reporters were dated 1858 and were souvenirs of the Knickerbocker championship team. The mummified balls were spherical but that was the only resemblance to modern day baseballs. Both baseballs have odd one piece covers in leather which were cut into four semi oval pieces and then sewn together.

In my research I have not been able to find out what happened to these baseball specimens. Do any readers know?

New York wheat futures for May were $1.11 ¼ .  Bar silver was priced 52 cents an ounce. A majority of stocks were in the mining and railroad sectors.

Silver is currently about $30 an ounce.

Charles M Rosenthal bought 4 lots of property from the Empire Realty Company including the property on Riverside Drive between 151st and 152nd streets for $200,000. The property had what was described as great views up and down the Hudson River.

Based on the Consumer Price Index $200,000 in 1909 would have been the equivalent of nearly $5 million in today’s money. Still a bargain considering what Mr. Rosenthal purchased.

An ad for a bookkeeper for a brewery offered a salary of $1,000 per annum.

According to the New York State Department of Labor the average union wage for three months was $216 which works out to $852 per year. So this bookkeeping job paid fairly well. On the other hand, the average pay for a university professor was $2,500 per year. In one study in 1909 men earned an estimated average of $1.50 per day. A woman earned only $0.85 per day. As the Times sniped in a September 19, 1909 answer to a reader questioning wages for women “A woman earning $500 per year , with no one dependent upon her efforts, may readily solve the problem of food, clothing and shelter.  Her social and aesthetic wants, of course, will never be satisfied, no matter how much her salary be increased.”

Near 41st Street and 7th Ave a Scotch terrier was lost. He answers to the name Scottie and there will be a liberal reward if returned.

You will rarely see these types of ads in a newspaper anymore. Craigslist has replaced the newspapers for lost and found notices. One thing hasn’t changed:  people are still giving their pets “unique” names like “Blackie” for their all black cat or black dog.

Peck’s Downtown Restaurant 140 Fulton Street Table d’hote lunch, dinner was 60 cents with wine and café. Open from 11:30 am to 8:30 pm

That 60 cents would have been quite a chunk of your salary if you were an hourly worker.

5 thoughts on “Life In 1909 – Random News And Advertising

  1. Fred Wilson

    I’ve recently published a book titled: ‘1909-the not so Belle Epoque with You might like it.

  2. Samir

    “What would our current energy situation be like today had the electric car won the battle for vehicular supremacy over the gasoline powered engine?” Well, we’d have used a TON more dirty coal to generate electricity to power those batteries. People make a common mistake of forgetting that batteries must be CHARGED in electric cars. Most of our electricity in the United States comes from coal today, and much more in 1900. It’s fun to tell people their electric car is actually coal-powered! In 1909, as today, fossil fuels were the only game in town for energy.

    1. B.P. Post author

      Good point! I guess I am imagining a day when electricity is primarily generated from solar, hydroelectric and wind power.

  3. Sandra Lorenz

    Very interesting to read about what life was like over 100 years ago. It gives me an appreciation of how things have evolved in every day life. How far we have come as a nation. Not only that it is important for the following reason:
    “In order to understand where we are now and where we are going, we must first understand where we have been.” ~~ Professor Jennifer Cunningham
    Perhaps if we made history more exciting, younger students would appreciate it more.
    If we have not learned how to live a healthy and fufilling life, then we as a country and globally as well are destined to repeat the same mistakes.

  4. Evelyn McHugh

    Something else must have been afoot that January in 1909. On October 20, 1909, in Jersey City and Lucern, Switzerland, Anna Bertha McHugh, and Marie Brunner were born. The names aren’t of historical importance to anyone but a small handful of people, which includes me. The two entries into the human race, born nine months to the day after that New York Times, were my two grandmothers, whose children would stumble into a beer hall in 1953, and after a one-week courtship, eventually produce me and my younger siblings. The coincidence of their date of birth would take a year or so for anyone to notice, due to the language barrier. The coincidence of your choice of that particular date and year to read at random was rather amusing to me, once I counted ahead nine months. Wonderful blog, FWIT, too.


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