JUST LIKE AMERICANS of today, Americans in the 1910s, '20s and '30s wanted the newest and best of everything. From cars to cameras, phonographs to dishwashers - everyone was trying to "keep up with the Joneses"!
By the early 1920s, over thirteen million cars were on the road in America. Though nearly ten percent of them were products of the Ford Motor Company, there were many automobile manufacturers, primarily in the Midwest. Although most of these are no longer in business, some of the names are still recognizable: Anderson, Apperson, Auburn, Buick, Cadillac, Chalmers, Chevrolet, Cole, Dodge, Ford, Franklin, Hupmobile, Jordan, Locomobile, Maxwell, Oldsmobile, Packard, Peerless, Raucher & Lang, REO, Studebaker, Stutz, White and Willy's Overland.
Around 1920, prices for these autos ranged from $675 for a Studebaker roadster to over $8,000 for a Locomobile Limousine. Most of the cars were fueled by gasoline, a few by kerosene, while others used steam. Some, like the Anderson and the Raucher & Lang, were powered by electricity.
The Kendricks drove several different types of cars. In 1911, John Kendrick purchased two Cadillacs: one for himself, and another for his wife. Manville Kendrick indicated in 1916 that his father drove a 1915 Cadillac roadster – a small, open automobile having a single bench seat in the front and a luggage compartment in the back. Later, the Senator drove a large Buick while his wife had a car which she called “Gold Dust.”
Like all young men, Manville wanted his own set of wheels. He purchased his first car in 1919: a $400 used Ford (priced new at $750). His father wasn't really sold on the deal and thought his son was being taken in by a crafty salesman:
I do not know the price of a new Ford car but if it were not in excess of $600 I do not see how you can afford to buy a second hand one for $400. You can depend upon it from me that after you use the car awhile, having paid $400 for it, and attempt to sell, instead of losing $100 you will be required to take $100 in order to get rid of it. There are not more shrewd manipulators than the men who are handling automobiles and you find this to be true if you deal with them.
Going out for a ride has long been a pleasant diversion. It was not always, however, without its problems. Although cars were becoming common by the mid-teens, good roads were scarce. The main road from Sheridan to Casper, for instance, was a dirt-and-rock track with few bridges. Directions were given by mileage and landmarks, as in “continue 1.2 miles past the first large white barn after the river crossing.”
One of the Sheridan area's first hard-surfaced roads was the one leading south to Big Horn (Coffeen Avenue/Road 335). Finished in 1919, the sixteen-foot-wide roadway was made of 16' x 9' blocks of concrete which were water-cured in a process called ponding. Several new bridges were built as part of the project, as well as new rights-of-way and fences. Motorists would take "joy rides" on the lane just to experience the smooth ride.
Even with hard-surfaced roads, tire blowouts were to be expected and everyone – men, women and children – had to know how to patch and change a tire. Nevertheless, weekend motor trips were popular with the Kendricks and other Sheridanites. They would pack up a picnic lunch, bring plenty of blankets, and take a tour down whichever country lane struck their fancy.
After the turn of the century, America saw a rapid increase in the availability of packaged foods. Commercially prepared foods had been around for decades, but improved manufacturing techniques were now making them safer, with a more varied content. In addition, improved transportation methods allowed products to be shipped all over the country.
This was the beginning of the era of the national brand. Because their products could be shipped nationwide, manufacturers began advertising in national magazines rather than local newspapers, thus broadening their market. Many of the brands we use today were available to the home cook in the 1910s and '20s: Campbell's, Coca-Cola, Cream of Wheat, Crisco, Durkee's, Hershey's, Jell-O, Karo, Kellogg's, Kool-Aid, Lea & Perrins, Libby's, Maxwell House, Mazola, Nabisco, Perrier, Quaker Oats, Schilling, Welch's and Wrigley's.
Naturally enough, most of the marketing of these products was aimed toward women. In order to be good wives and mothers, the ads maintained, women had to take advantage of these products as they became available. If not, they might be considered old-fashioned or unconcerned about the quality of their home.
Invented in 1877 by Thomas Alva Edison, the “Talking Machine” was originally used to record speaking voices. Early phonographs preserved the voices of many famous people: Sarah Bernhardt, Queen Victoria, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Edison himself. As important as the machine was for preserving voices for posterity, however, it was soon put to use recording music by the great (and not so great) singers and musicians of vaudeville and the legitimate stage.
Also known as the gramophone or Victrola, the phonograph and its cabinet became a part of the American home's furniture. It was available in many different styles, from small portables to Chippendale-style floor models. Early phonographs had a large external horn for amplifying the sound (similar to that being listened to by “Little Nipper” in the Victor ads). These horns were later reduced in size and placed inside the phonograph cabinet.
Although Edison was known for his work with electricity, his earliest phonographs – and those of his competitors Victor and Brunswick – were not powered by it. Until the 1920s, all phonographs were spring-driven. Before each record was played, the spring had to be wound by cranking a handle on the side of the unit.
The flat phonograph disc we know today was introduced in 1900. Thousands of records were produced by dozens of major labels. The most well-known in the early days were Edison, Victor, Pathé, Brunswick and Columbia (ancestor of the 10-CDs-for-a-penny Columbia House Music Club).
Before the Great Depression took hold, consumerism ran rampant in 1920s and '30s America. Gadgets and gizmos, many of them electrified, were manufactured by hundreds of small companies. Vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, dishwashers, pop-up toasters, waffle makers, curling irons, hair dryers and other household appliances were particularly popular. All were designed to make life a little easier for the modern homemaker.
“Automatic” (hand-cranked) dishwashers were in use at least as early as 1914. In that year, the Hershey-Seaton Mfg. Co. sold a machine made of tinned sheet iron with a wooden lever handle and a basket inside to keep the dishes in place. Most housewives and housekeepers, however, did dishes by hand with the help of pot scrapers, soap savers and elbow grease. If they were lucky, they had a child or a maid in the house to help with the drying. If not, they used dish drainers.
Before the days of indoor plumbing, any water that was brought into the house for cleaning purposes had to be taken out again after it was used. If the housewife wanted hot water for washing dishes, she had to bring it in from the well or pump or stream, heat it in a bucket on the stove, and toss it out after she was done. Hence, the introduction of indoor plumbing was one of the most appreciated labor-saving moves.
For more on modern household technology, visit our Independent of the Sun exhibit.
From snapshots and movies to records and radios, the early twentieth century was a time of great strides in the recording of the sights and sounds of American life. Through the efforts of George Eastman, Thomas Edison and other entrepreneurs, the art of photography was taken out of the studio and into the streets of every village in the country.
Until the last dozen years of the nineteenth century, photography was something almost always done by professionals only. Bulky cameras, fragile glass negatives and expensive developing equipment put photography out of reach of all but the wealthiest or most determined of amateurs. Flexible film produced in the late 1880s brought the price down somewhat, but it wasn't until the introduction of roll film, combined with the appearance of the Kodak box camera, that photography became a popular hobby for the masses.
With the slogan "You push the button, we do the rest," George Eastman's Kodak cameras – both the "Folding Pocket" model (1898) and the "Brownie" (1900) – found their way into countless American homes. A new type of photograph, the "snapshot," was created. The Brownie only cost a dollar, but after all the film was exposed, the camera had to be sent off to a Kodak lab where the film was processed. A replacement roll was inserted into the camera and returned to the owner along with the processed prints. The arrival of the Kodak Developing Machine in 1902 brought the price of the hobby down because amateurs could then process their own film without a darkroom and without sending away the entire camera. Photos could be printed on regular photographic paper or on heavy postcard stock, enabling the photo to be sent through the mail.
In 1912, Kodak introduced the Vest Pocket Kodak. Small enough to carry anywhere, the VPK produced eight tiny 1½ x 2½ inch prints per roll of film. Because of its small size and equally small price ($6.00), these cameras were very popular. Many soldiers, including Kendrick family friend Lt. Harry Henderson, carried them to the front during World War One, making that conflict the first seen through the eyes of the soldiers themselves.
In 1891, only three years after the introduction of flexible film, Thomas Alva Edison developed the motion picture camera. While a vast industry developed in New York and California based on that invention, home movies weren't practical until 1923, when Kodak introduced 16mm film and the Cine-Kodak motion picture camera. Home movies were instantly popular and became even more so after the introduction of color film (for home use) in 1928. As the Eastman Kodak Company noted in a 1927 brochure,
Movies tell the complete incident in action; personal, thrilling and absorbing. No wonder that amateurs have so enthusiastically accepted this novel pastime, economically and easily achieved with the new Eastman-made motion picture equipments.
After they were returned from the developing lab, these "thrilling and absorbing" home movies could be shown to friends and family with the aid of a Kodascope projector. “Electrically operated and so equipped that it fits any ordinary house circuit,” the Kodascope could also project commercial films such as travelogues, sporting events, Charlie Chaplin movies and Felix the Cat cartoons – all available from a Kodak catalog.
With their motion picture camera, the Kendricks took photos of their trip to Europe in 1927, as well as a garden party at Trail End in 1932. Rosa-Maye took her camera along on a trip to Egypt in the late 1920s, with resulting images of camel races, pyramids and a trip up the Nile River.
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
April 1999 - December 2001
Detail from movie poster, 1916 (Private Collection)
Manville Kendrick in the "Cad 8," 1915 (Kendrick Collection, TESHS)
State Historic Site