I think I might have missed one of my annual jaunts down memory lane last year. That is my review of the news from 100 years ago as presented in the “Chronicle of America” and the notion that there’s not much new under the sun. The Chronicle gives a year-by-year history of America from Paleolithic times to the present, although my volume only goes up to 1988. That was the year George H.W. Bush “swept to a 40-state victory,” the Chronicle notes.
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Much was different in 1914, but many issues were similar if not very similar to issues and events today. Union miners and family members were “massacred at the Ludlow mine” in Ludlow, Colo. Miners on strike from the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company had set up a tent city nearby. National Guardsmen joined security forces in the effort to dislodge the miners. They set fire to the tents and shot the people as they tried to escape. Three men, two women and 13 children were killed. Labor officials called it a “cold blooded act of murder.” The company and guardsmen said if “they hadn’t acted, even more lives would have been lost.”
Montana’s state militia intervened in ongoing labor strife in the city of Butte after several years of union competition to represent the miners turned violent. The headline reads, “Unionism crushed in Butte mine fight.” The Anaconda Copper Company had fired several hundred “Socialist miners” a couple of years earlier, which sparked a union rivalry.
The war on labor continues to this day, in my opinion. Governors like Chris Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker have made political hay on their efforts, fairly successful so far, to squash public employee unions. That concerns me because as that kind of thing gets institutionalized and accepted, how long before the private sector jumps in and does the same? I don’t expect to see the likes of 1914 Colorado or Montana any time soon, but it’s troubling.
On the bright side of labor relations, Henry Ford doubled the minimum wage of his workers in January 1914 — to $5 a day. The move was both to forestall union activity among his 26,000 workers and to make it possible for them to actually buy the cars they were building. Ford was called “everything from a socialist to a spendthrift,” the Chronicle reports. Ford reportedly also did it to reward those who had made the company tremendous profits over the past few years.
Mother’s Day was created on May 9, 1914. Miss Anna Jarvis of Grafton, W.Va, (in memory of her mother) successfully petitioned Congress, and legislators set the second Sunday in May as the annual holiday. President Woodrow Wilson was at the helm in those halcyon days a couple of months before World War I started.
“Tarzan of the Apes” premiered that year in the U.S. The Chronicle describes author Edgar Rice Burroughs as “a “former light bulb vendor and door to door book salesman.” He was 39 when he penned the now-classic work.
Here’s one that if I ever knew, I’d forgotten. U.S. sailors and Marines invaded Mexico at Vera Cruz in July, 1914 in support of counter-revolutionaries General Obregon and Emiliano Zapata. With American help, they deposed President Victoriano Huerta, aka, “the Butcher.”
Later in the year as Germany-Austria lined up against Britain, France and Russia, President Wilson cautioned Americans to be “neutral in fact as well as in name … impartial in thought as well as deed.” At that point, the country did not know which side it was on, and there was a significant split in the emotions of people who were urged to support the countries of their birth and ethnic origins.
Now if you think the 2014 “War on Women” is headline news, imagine the 1914 war on women. On Oct. 20, Margaret Sanger, advocate of birth control, was “said to be on a train bound for Montreal fleeing trial for violating the Comstock Law.” Sanger wrote and distributed a paper titled “The Woman Rebel” which asserts among other things that “a woman’s body belongs to herself alone.” She also wrote one called “Family Limitations” in which she outlined the use of “sponges, diaphragms and other birth control devices.” The Chronicle concludes this piece noting that, had she “stood trial, she might have been sentenced to 45 years” in prison. Google the Comstock Law or Act for a fascinating view of morality laws of the time.
The Raggedy Ann doll was “invented” in 1914 by political cartoonist John Gruelle for his terminally ill daughter. The artist took an old rag doll, drew a face on it, added “a mop of red hair,” restuffed it and called it Raggedy Ann. Is that too cute or what?
Under the headline “L.A. hates and loves the movie business,” the Chronicle reports that “signs outside boarding houses proclaim: No dogs, no actors.” Seems some of the movie makers were cavalier about using private property and public thoroughfares to film their scenes without regard for the local inhabitants. “Still, the value of this new industry is inestimable,” the article acknowledges.
Two more pieces of labor-business-related legislation were passed in 1914. The Clayton Antitrust Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act both strengthened existing laws against unfair labor and business practices by corporations. The first “makes corporate officers personally responsible for antitrust violations” and limits court action against labor “except when there is a threat of irreparable damage to property, and legalizes peaceful boycotts, strikes and picketing.”
The second aimed at curbing abuses such as “price-fixing, misleading advertising, false labeling, unfair competition and adulteration of products.”
World War I was probably the biggest story of the year, but a close second had to be the completion and opening of the Panama Canal. Ten years in the making, the 40-mile canal cost an estimated $366 million and at times employed up to 40,000 workers. The canal cuts 7,000 miles off the voyage between Pacific and Atlantic by way of the Straits of Magellan.
Chief Sanitary Engineer, General William Gorgas is credited with finding the key to controlling the twin scourges of yellow fever and malaria that killed 6,000 workers during the decade of construction. “Much of the credit for the successful management of the project must go to General George W. Goethals, who was appointed chief engineer by President (Theodore) Roosevelt in 1907,” the Chronicle concludes.
So that’s what was going on in 1914. Wars, threats of wars, wage and labor disputes, “love and hate for the movie industry,” and most people just trying to get by or do a little better than just getting by. Sounds a lot like 2014, doesn’t it?
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.