How Edwardian

January 1, 2014. Hanging yet another new calendar on the wall today, pondering the customary “look forward.”  This year I will (a) lose weight, (b) be more conscious of what I eat, (c) be nicer to animals (including humans), (d) read more, (e) write more, (f) most of the above (g) none of the above, (h) “h” for “the heck with it.”

As part of my renewed (year 3) effort to be a “kinder, gentler Joe” I’ll spend a bit more time contemplating our past in an on-going effort to understand where we are, how we got here, and where we are going.

Joe & Audrey: Period attire to attend festivities to commemorate closing ceremony of 1904 Worlds Fair

This blog entry is an introduction to a series I intend to write, roughly based on the Edwardian Era, about 1900-1914.  This span of years is based on my recurring predilection with “The Age Game.” [1]

Ushering in a new century, these years were pregnant with hope and expectations of much goodness for the human race, and for the United States.

When Queen Victoria died, in 1901, after a reign of nearly 64 years, it was certainly symbolic of transition: a world moving into a bold, brave new era. Gone was the 19th century; upon us was a new century of possibility! —  with technology evolving at breakneck speed, and life certainly to improve for all!

Electricity was new and wonderful, putting an end to dark nights and dark streets, only dimly lit by gas lamps or candles, which had their own dangers. Electric motors, thanks mostly to George Westinghouse and his use of Tesla’s genius, were being produced more cheaply than ever, with great promise for domestic, civil and commercial improvements.

The telephones and telephone exchanges allowed instant voice communication across towns, across miles; soon it would be across a continent, and even an ocean.

Listening to fine music — and dancing as well — had been largely the private reserve of the upper classes.  A piano or small orchestra was required for the best pieces.   Now, the Gramophone (or the “Victrola” ® by the Victor Talking Machine Company), made it possible to enjoy all the popular music of the day.

Moving pictures were evolving into a lively, regular and inexpensive form of entertainment.

In December, 1903, on a cool, breezy beach where large sand dunes made the building of ramps easier, two brothers — Orville and Wilbur — proved that powered flight was possible.  Soon enough, in 1911 mail would be delivered by aeroplane.  Could it be long before passenger flight was possible too?

Personal freedom was becoming manifest in personal transportation. Instead of waiting for a train, or trolley, more and more people could simply hop in a car and go … wherever they wanted.  Mechanical and road improvements would only enhance this freedom.

Radio waves made possible instant communication. Even though programming was sparse and there was little benefit for the common-Joe, the possibility was there – the anticipation – about to emerge and make the world even more magical.

Health was on the upswing. Municipalities had largely cleaned up their water supplies, and improved waste-water sanitation.  Doctors and medical schools had moved past the “dig-up-graves-and-examine-corpses-to-learn-about-the-body” stage.  Life expectancy for the average working male would jump by nearly 50% <!!> during this era, from barely over 40 to nearly 60 years!

Thanks to advances in technology, including the electric motor, Mr Willis Carrier built the first machine that looked and worked like a modern electric motor-based air conditioner, or refrigerator in 1902.  In use at this time mostly for industrial purposes (including storing and lagering beer – yay beer!), people sensed that soon it would bring comfort to everyday life, and eliminate the need for the iceman to stop by with a block of ice for “the ice box” every day. By 1903 some cities were even sporting year-round ice skating facilities.

This era presented exquisite promise for the United States in the budding century.  By 1900 she had become a genuine world power. Fresh from her worldwide military victory over a long-established country with world prominence (Spain), she took on the look of a blooming empire: the Philippines in the east, Puerto Rico and Cuba in the Caribbean. [Although Cuba and the Philippines were put on track to independence; with Guantanamo to be retained for a future site needed to entertain suspected terrorists.]

And numbers!  In 1900 the United States population surpassed 76 million! As many as France and the United Kingdom (England-Scotland-Wales-Northern Ireland) combined.  40% more than Germany.   And her economy grew to have the greatest Gross Domestic Product of any nation in the world … with no boundaries and nowhere to grow, but up, up, up.

By 1914, the World had repeatedly come to America, as in a parade to her parlor over and over again, as the upstart country elbowed its way onto the world stage to host the World’s Fair a resounding six different years. [4]  Two in particular, Chicago in 1893 and Saint Louis in 1904, were extravagantly huge productions, each trying to outdo the other while earning for the country, and themselves, world acclaim.

And finally, the world looked forward to a long century of peace.  Social scientists, historians, and economists all agreed: Everything that the world powers could possibly fight over had been resolved.  Many decades of peace with prosperity would certainly follow this period of promise.

Looking back, we know.  Only a few months later, this 20th century — budding with so much promise — changed into a dark, moody monster. In the summer of 1914, the Great War began.  The bloom fell off the rose, and the century became, instead, the bloodiest and most brutal century in the history of the human race.

As we begin another new year, looking forward with hope and expectation, let us also hearken back to consider an earlier era of similar hopeful anticipation. Back to the Edwardian and pre-war age of ebullient expectation —when it seemed that the future held nothing but rainbows, butterflies and lollipops.

Wishing you all and humanity a peaceful and cheerful 100 years.

Joe Girard © 2014

[1] Age Game.  Multiply your age by two and subtract from the current year. e.g if you are 25, subtract 50 from 2014 and get 1964.  Now think of or learn about all the things that happened within a few years of that.  It is a stark reminder of how short history really is.  You can easily imagine anything historical happening in One of your lifetimes, because it did!  So it is no great stretch to think back two of your lifetimes and come to the quick understanding that those things were not so very long ago, at all.

This essay is mostly for those age 50 (my crowd), especially up to 57 (my age).

2 x 50 = 100.  So, 2014 – 100 = 1914.  The end of this era.

2 x 57 = 114.  So, 2014 – 114 = 1900, the beginning of this era.

 [2] Dance halls with pianos, or any gathering with a reasonably good fiddler, banjo or guitar player were also popular … especially in the south and among lower classes … but this did not lend itself to ALL the great music of every genre.

[3] Era speak.


Victorian era officially ended in 1901.

Edwardian Era was 1901-1910.

From 1910, the last of this hopeful span, to 1914, is called Pre-War.

 [4] Word’s Fair (Expositions) in the US —

1) Philadelphia – 1876, Centennial Exposition

2) Chicago – 1893, Columbian Exposition

3) Buffalo – 1901, Pan-American Exposition

4) Saint Louis – 1904, Louisiana Purchase Exposition

5) Norfolk, VA – 1907, Jamestown Exposition

6) Seattle – 1909, Alaska/Yukon-Pacific Exposition

*** in 1915 the US would host again, jointly between San Francisco and San Diego, celebrating the opening of the Panama Canal

3 thoughts on “How Edwardian”

  1. Elle

    I liked it! I am somewhat of a history buff and often think of what was happening in Europe in the early 1900’s. My Dad often told me about their lives in Germany, which were extremely affluent before the Great War, and even thereafter. He told me about his college days in Heidelberg and then the immense inflation, when people went to the store with bags of money just to buy groceries. For my parent’s lives, life was good, but it must have been pretty bad for the poorer folks, or the Socialists would not have been able to put Hitler in power.

    I have an interesting book, “The Pity of it all”, about the lives of upwardly mobile German Jews of that Era. Fits my parents to a T.

    1. Joe Post Author

      Hi Elle, share more of your thoughts on this era. Please. Inflation (and then Hyper-inflation) did not hit Germany (Weimar) until after The Great War. The Hyper-inflation hit around 1921-24, partly a consequence of trying to pay back the horrific war debt penalties imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. 1900-14 would be the time your parents transitioned from youth to young-adult, and it’s my understanding it was rather a golden time in Germany (relatively speaking), as it was here.

  2. Carmen


    I found the piece you wrote entertaining. I would change the following in the first paragraph that reads, “…(c) be nicer to animals (including humans)” to “…(c) be nicer to humans, animals and nature.”

    Have a great rest of the night!


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