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"The Wisconsin Years," from
My First Eighty Years (and then some!) 
Lyle Arthur Seefeld

Copyright Ralph L. Seefeld and Carol Howman. This book may not be reproduced or copied
in any manner without the written consent of Ralph L. Seefeld 

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Chapter 1: The World in 1905

In 1905, the world had a population of one and three-quarter billion people.  Norway gained its independence from Sweden in that year, and Kaiser Wilhelm I (Kaiser Bill of World War I fame) ruled Germany.  Edward VII was King of Great Britain, having succeeded his mother, Queen Victoria on her death in 1901. As a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Cuba was now independent of Spanish rule, while Puerto Rico and Guam were now United States owned territories.  The future in the Philippine Islands, also now freed from the Spanish rule, was being hotly debated.

In 1905, the United States (of which there were just 45) had a population of eighty-four million.  Arizona and New Mexico were territories, and what is now Oklahoma was known as Indian Territory.  Theodore Roosevelt was the president, having succeeded from the vice-presidency after President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, and then was elected to a full term in 1904.  The Wright Brothers had made their first successful airplane flight only two years earlier, and San Franciscans were blissfully unaware of the impending devastation of their city by the earthquake of 1906.

A great many of the composers of the classical music we enjoy so much today were alive and composing in 1905.  They included DeBussy, Grieg, Mahler, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Saint-Saens, and Sibelius.  Aaron Copeland was just five years old, and Johann Strauss, the Viennese waltz king, had died just six years earlier, in 1899.  In a more popular vein, George Gershwin was just seven years old in 1905.

In 1905, transoceanic travel was handled by large ocean liners, and steamship companies were racing to see who could carry passengers across the Atlantic in the shortest time.  Long journeys in the United States were made by railroad trains of passenger cars, dining cars, and "Pullman" sleeping cars, all pulled by steam locomotives.  Shorter distances were traveled by horse-drawn buggy or wagon, or sometimes by boat.  Transoceanic communication was handled by submarine telegraph cables laid on the ocean floor.  Within the United States, the telegraph transmitted long-distance messages, handled in small towns by the railroad telegrapher in the local train depot.  The telephone was coming into use for the local communications.  In 1906, Tomahawk, which had a population of about three thousand, had one hundred and eighty-four telephones!

In 1905, the United States Postal Service was busily transporting private postcards and letters, at two cents per first-class letter, and one cents per postcard.  Fourth Class or Parcel Post had not yet started, but parcels weighing up to four pounds could be mailed, at one cent per ounce.  When a package was too large to go by mail, it was shipped by freight or express.  Both went by train, but express shipments were carried by passenger trains, while freight shipments went in boxcars in slower freight trains.  Either way, they arrived at the local railway station, and if the recipient had no way of getting them home, they could be delivered by the local "dray-line", which in small towns like Tomahawk, was a self-employed owner of a wagon and team of horses, who made a business of hauling freight and express shipments to and from the depot.

Many of the devices considered to be essential for modern day living did not exist in 1905.  Things such as microwave ovens, aerosol spray cans, air conditioning, neon signs, computers, x-ray machines, and electric refrigerators had not yet been developed.  Radio was in its infancy, and was used only for telegraphy.  Commercial radio broadcasting didn't begin until 1920!  The only plastic was celluloid, which was used to make common household items such as combs, baby rattles, and stiff collars for men.  All of the modern life-saving drugs such as insulin, antibiotics, and disease preventing vaccines such as for polio and measles were developed much later.  And, in 1905, an obscure German scientist named Albert Einstein announced his new theory of relativity.

Before electric refrigerators became common, many household kitchens had ice-boxes.  A compartment in the top was kept supplied with ice by a local ice company.  In a northern town on a river, such as Tomahawk, the ice was obtained from the river during the winter and stored for summer use, as described in a later chapter.  In the places where the river ice wasn't available, the was "artificial ice".  Nothing artificial about it, though,  for of course it was ordinary water which had been frozen.  What was artificial was the method of freezing it.  Huge "ice-plants" using amonia-filled refrigeration machines froze water into neat blocks, ready for the waiting ice-boxes.

You family doctor made house calls!  He got around to his patients by horse and buggy, which he left standing in the street while he was doing his thing inside.  When he left, he would often leave behind a handful of "powders" which were dissolved in a glass of water, must have been a bitter drink, for I suspect many were just plain aspirin.  If a patient had contracted a contagious disease, and many did in those days, there were suddenly appear, tacked to the front door of his house a brightly colored quarantine sign, warning everyone of the presence of diphtheria, scarlet fever or other deadly ailment, and prohibiting anyone but the doctor from entering or leaving the house until the danger was over and the sign was taken down.

Of course, not all doctor's patients survived their illness.  When someone died, family members summoned the undertaker, who transported the body to his "undertaking parlors", which in our town were rooms in the back of a furniture store.  There the body would be embalmed, appropriately clothed, placed in a coffin and returned to his erstwhile home.  There the coffin was placed on a stand called a bier, the cover opened, and the body allowed to "lie in state" for two or three days prior to the burial.  In the evenings while the deceased "lay in state", a wake would be held.  A wake was essentially an informal "open house" to which friends, neighbors and relatives could come and express their condolences, swap stories about the deceased, and in general help the family cope with their loss.  On the day of the burial, the undertaker came and placed the coffin into his hearse.  The hearse was a vehicle like no other.  It was horse-drawn, of course, with the driver's seat high in front.  Essentially a small wagon, just large enough to hold the casket, painted black, with black draped glass sides, the led the funeral procession north on Fourth Street, across the rattly Wisconsin River bridge, and on north up the road to one of the cemeteries.  Yes, the Catholics and the Protestants had their own separate burying grounds!

When a traveling salesman came to town, (and they did, even then!) he would arrive by train, or course, and then would rent a room at the hotel.  Then he headed for the livery stable, which was a huge barn with horses, buggies, wagons (and in the winter, sleighs and cutters) for hire.  There he would hire a horse and buggy, and, if his expense account permitted, he could even hire a driver.  Thus equipped, he would make his rounds, returning the rig to the stable when he was finished.  He would then spend the night in the hotel and leave on the morning train.

Miscellaneous: In 1905, United States women were not allowed to vote.  In fact, the constitutional amendment giving them this privilege was not ratified until 1920!  Oh, yes, there were no Boy Scouts.  They started in 1910.