(The UNITED STATES to 1910 – continued)
Some people in the United States continued to blame the rich for their miseries, and commonly among people of modest means was the opinion that people who had gained great wealth had done so through greed. A leading target of these people was John D. Rockefeller. Now retired, Rockefeller had been a Sunday school teacher with ascetic tendencies, and he had risen in business by holding back from spending on himself and by being better organized and less wasteful than his competitors. But responding to the common view of Rockefeller, a "muckraking" journalist, Ida Tarbell, wrote a series of articles for McClure's magazine on Rockefeller that distorted his past.
But in the United States, optimism proved stronger than class consciousness, and Americans had good reason to be optimistic. The United States was a functioning democracy. It was stable and industrious, and real wages (wages according to what they can buy) were rising. Events would justify this optimism. Real wages would rise at an average rate across the century of 1.6 percent a year despite the Great Depression of the thirties. In the first decade of the century, fresh beef was around 13 cents a pound, equivalent to about $30 a pound relative to 1990 dollars. Soap was 5 cents a bar, equal to $11.50 in 1990 dollars. A refrigerator early in the century cost $3,000 in 1990 dollars.
In the 1904 presidential elections, Roosevelt was returned to office, running on what he called "the Square Deal." Said Roosevelt: "I shall see to it that every man has a square deal, no less and no more." In his second term, the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act became laws, and with these laws the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created, whose task was to protect the American public by testing and approving drugs before they were allowed on the market. And in his second term, Roosevelt turned again to the issue of conservation. Lumber, oil and mining companies opposed his moves, and many western politicians feared that Roosevelt's conservationism would retard economic growth in their districts. But the Roosevelt administration went ahead and created more parks and made reserves of 17,000,000 acres of forest.
A necessary part of democracy was freedom of the press – which, of course, includes the publication and distribution of books. And in the latter half of the first decade, a socialist, Upton Sinclair, wrote a book called The Jungle in which he exposed conditions in the meat industry, specifically in the Chicago stockyards. The book became popular, and while it was Sinclair's intention to sell socialism to the American public, what resulted was not socialism but more reform – the passage of pure food laws. Americans were inclined toward solving one problem at a time rather than taking ideological leaps of faith.
In addition to reforms at the federal level, political reforms were taking shape in the states – reforms that followed the example of Wisconsin. Candidates for public office were to be chosen by primaries rather than by behind-the-scene power brokers. And states were beginning to establish referendums, and to establish a short ballot, limitations on contributions to political campaigns, and to establish the direct election of senators rather than senators being chosen by state legislatures.
Adding to what might be called progress was the continuing proliferation of the "horseless carriage." In the summer of 1903, an automobile had been driven from San Francisco to New York City in sixty-three days. That year, another car, a Packard, did it in fifty-three days, and that year auto sales soared, with Oldsmobile selling around 4,000 cars. In 1904, numerous people took cross-country driving vacations. The American Automobile Association organized a tour from New York to the Exposition in St. Louis, and fifty-nine autos made the trip.
The internal combustion engine made flying possible, the Wright brothers in 1905 having flown 24.3 miles in thirty-eight minutes. Then, in 1906, a benevolent aspect of the automobile became more apparent. That year the San Francisco earthquake became a turning point in the acceptance of engine powered vehicles. During that emergency, horses were dropping from heat exhaustion while supplies from motor trucks kept hauling needed supplies. The San Francisco Chronicle claimed the automobile had proved indispensable in saving parts of the city from fire.
Amid the progress, of course, was a lot of ballyhoo, noise, struggle and conflict. In 1908, the Republican candidate, William Howard Taft, was elected to succeed Roosevelt. That was the year that Isadora Duncan began dancing, and the middle classes viewing her flimsy dresses and exposed arms and legs as ridiculous and shocking. And in 1908, in Sydney Australia, an American black named Jack Johnson defeated Tommy Burns of Australia for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world – his victory followed by some violence outside the boxing ring. In 1910, a former American champion, Jim Jeffries, came out of retirement to reclaim the title for the white race. Jack Johnson knocked him out, and a race riot ensued at ringside, followed by race riots across the United States in which nineteen persons died.
Meanwhile businesses including banks from the United States were increasing their investments in Latin America. The U.S. share of trade with Latin America was on the rise, and during the decade this created what was called "dollar diplomacy." And in the first decade of the twentieth century, the Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was in operation. The United States government believed that it had the right to intervene in Latin American nations to promote political stability and financial responsibility, to prevent European intervention in the area, and this was supported by a majority of U.S. citizens interested in foreign affairs. The United States was invited into the Dominican Republic to manage the collection of customs revenues, and the U.S. presence discouraged attempts by revolutionaries to overthrow the government there. In Nicaragua, the U.S. intervened with money and marines in support of conservatives who overthrew the liberal government of Jose Zelaya, who had been harassing U.S. businessmen – the beginning of what would become a larger intervention in Nicaragua in the coming decade.
T.R. The Last Romantic, by H.W. Brands, 1997
Margaret Sanger: Pioneer of the Future, by Emily Taft Douglas, 1970
The Oxford History of the American People, Chapters 49 and 53, by Samuel Eliot Morison, 1965
PBS Documentary, Slavery by Another Name, and a book with the same title, by Douglas A. Blackmon, 2009
(See a description of this book and events described in the book in a review by Daniel Hurley, the second five-star review, at Amazon.com.)
The Case of the
Negro, by Booker T. Washington, 1899,
posted in the archives of The Atlantic Online, http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/flashbks/black/washbh.htm
"Women without Shampoo," http://www.pbs.org/wnet/1900house/house/bathroom/personal.html, posted by PBS, 2000
Rockefeller, American Experience, PBS, 2013
Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.