16 unbelievable ways that life in the US has changed in the past 100 years

The world we live in moves so quickly – there are things we use today that will be obsolete by 2020 – that it’s no surprise that it was completely different a mere century ago.

Take a look around your home – 100 years ago, there were no fridges, or microwaves, or hairdryers, and very rarely did someone have a bathroom, let alone two or three. Your medicine cabinet wouldn’t be filled with Advil or Tylenol, but over-the-counter heroin or mercury.

Keep scrolling to see 16 things that were the norm in the US a century ago.

There was essentially only one type of car, the Model T, and barely anyone drove.

overcrew/ShutterstockA Model T.

Before the invention of the Model T (also known as a Tin Lizzie) in 1908, car ownership wasn’t feasible for the everyday American. But, once the somewhat affordable, $US850 car hit the streets, people all over the country began learning how to drive.

It’s hard to imagine almost no one learning how to drive, and only having one real option to choose from – in 2009, 87% of the driving-aged population had driver’s licenses, and today there are hundreds of car brands and models to choose from.

Horse and buggies were commonplace.

It apparently took cars 50 years to fully unseat horses as the preferred mode of transportation.

One of the reasons why is that horses were also useful in rural areas, where they doubled as both transportation and work hands – cars aren’t exactly helpful in that way.

Now, riding in a horse and buggy is mainly just a tourist activity.

Letters and parcels were largely mailed by trains, trucks, or even motorcycles — the first airmail ever was sent in May 1918.

Today, communication can be transmitted instantaneously by email or phone, but back in 1918 that luxury didn’t exist.

While the US Postal Service is still around today, it’s continually losing money as less and less people are mailing things. One hundred years ago though, people were marveling at the idea of flying mail across the country.

Had an infection? Your doctors might prescribe bloodletting, aka leeches. Penicillin was still a decade away.

Bloodletting was actually recommended as a treatment for infections and other ailments all the way through the 1940s, which seems unreal today. Mercury, a literal toxic substance, was used to treat syphilis for many years. Popular beauty treatments were no less harmful.

Penicillin would be discovered in 1928 by Dr. Alexander Fleming. It would take two more decades for a patient to be successfully treated by it.

Heroin, and other opiates, were available as over-the-counter medicines.

Wikimedia CommonsHeroin was a popular cold medicine.

Heroin was first introduced in 1898, and was included in many cold remedies as well as cough syrup. Morphine, opium, and cocaine too were being sold at pharmacies across the country.

Now, heroin is known as a highly addictive and dangerous drug, and the opioid crisis was declared a public health emergency in 2017.

People all over the US were pushing for Prohibition — the complete ban of alcohol.

The temperance movement, which pushed the government to ban the consumption and production of alcohol, first started in the 1800s. The first state to ban alcohol completely was Maine in 1846. The movement only gained power until the 18th Amendment was passed in 1920, which officially amended the Constitution to include a federal ban on alcohol.

Now, it’s a given that alcohol is legal in the US – in fact, people are pushing for the federal legalization of a different substance, marijuana.

The movies that people flocked to see were not just black and white, but entirely silent.

Silent movies are seen as quaint in 2018, but 100 years ago they were the height of innovation. In 1918, going to the movies was a fairly new activity – the first movies were shot in the late 1800s.

Women left behind corsets — only to trade them for girdles.

Wikimedia CommonsFashion was different.

According to Fashion History, “in 1916, Stanford Mail Order Company, New York, marketed girdles to ‘Misses and Small Women.'”

If you don’t know what a girdle is, don’t feel bad – they’re not really used today. They replaced corsets as the favourite undergarment of women in the 1910s, but they have since been replaced by Spanx.

A girdle is essentially a less form-fitting corset. It wasn’t as tight, but still changed the body’s shape.

Forget dating apps — couples got set up by their parents and courted each other.

The idea of “dating” didn’t really come into vogue until the ’20s – before the 19th century, most unions (heterosexual unions, anyway) were facilitated by parents, who would arrange for a male suitor to have a supervised visit in the woman’s home to determine compatibility.

In the early 1900s, romance was a new concept: people tended to marry for practical or financial reasons.

Women were protesting for the right to vote.

In 1918, women were two years away from winning their battle for voting equality and the passage of the 19th Amendment.

The beginning of World War I slowed down the suffrage movement, as women took on unprecedented responsibilities and entered the workforce (something else that’s commonplace today), but women were still protesting and fighting for their right to vote.

Gas stations were a relatively new thing — people usually bought their gas in a can from the pharmacy.

Before gas stations became permanent fixtures, people used to have to buy gas in cans at their local blacksmith shop or pharmacy and pour it into the tanks themselves.

Now, some people can just plug their car into a wall to charge.

There was no national anthem yet.

Today, pretty much every American knows “The Star-Spangled Banner” by heart.

But 100 years ago, the US had no official national anthem. While “The Star-Spangled Banner” was recognised for official uses, so were a few other songs such as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” and “America the Beautiful.” “The Star-Spangled Banner” didn’t become the official national anthem until 1931.

There were no federal laws on child labour, meaning many children dropped out of school.

The first federal child labour laws were passed in 1916, but it was only ruled to be unconstitutional two years later – and there would be no real regulation until 1938’s Fair Labour Standards Act.

While it’s hard to picture young children working full-time jobs in mines, factories, and pretty much any other unskilled profession today, it was the norm less than 100 years ago. The 1900 Census suggests that almost two million kids aged 10 to 15 were working full-time jobs.

Ladies had to leave their hair up to nature — blow dryers weren’t readily available until the ’20s.

The first hair dryer was invented 1888, but it was the size of vacuum cleaner – not exactly a practical home appliance. It also didn’t work effectively enough to become mainstream.

But once hair dryers became smaller and more portable in the 1920s, they blew up. And now, 88% of American households report owning at least one.

Indoor plumbing was still pretty new — outhouses were commonly used outside of cities.

Scottish inventor Alexander Cumm patented a flushing toilet in 1775, but toilets as we know them today were really only introduced in 1910 – but they were for the very wealthy only. And before that, even in huge metropolises like New York City, people used communal outhouses and chamber pots. It would take decades before indoor plumbing became the norm in rural areas.

Americans were very conscious of how much food they ate, in order to conserve provisions for soldiers fighting in World War I.

Wikimedia CommonsPeople receiving rations.

We’re not really worried about running out of food in America in 2018 – affording it is a different story – but there’s really no shortage for us to be conscious of. Actually, we waste an extreme amount of food.

But in 1918, every patriotic American was constantly reminded not to buy any more food than necessary, since our troops across the pond fighting the Germans needed to be fed.


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