Our Newest List: A TRIP DOWN CENTURY LANE…..If You’d Been 18 a Century Ago

by Tom McBride

A TRIP DOWN CENTURY LANE: On Being a Teen-Ager in 1922

Suppose it were a hundred years ago, you were eighteen, and trying to get your life out of the blocks. Well, there was reason to be optimistic. Sure, Germany had hyperinflation and Italy had something new called “fascism,” but the major powers were disarming, the “movies” were getting longer, the presidents of the world were talking on something called “radio,” and Ireland and Egypt were free states at last. Edward, that dashing new Prince of Wales, promised to be a great king someday. That League of Nations would keep mega-destructive wars from ever happening again. And if you were an American, then your president was as handsome as a young Rudolf Valentino. Credit is cheap, something called “chain stores” are popping up, and “consumerism” is the hot new word. Even Jesus is being touted as a great salesman.


1 Congrats: You survived the Spanish flu, were too young to die in the Great War, and can reasonably expect to live another thirty-five years.

2 Little Betty White, Doris Day, Bea Arthur, Pierre Cardin, Judy Garland, George McGovern, Redd Fox, Dorothy Dandridge, and Ava Gardener have just been born, but you haven’t heard of any of them, yet.

3 You’d have shared the world with an Irish writer—whose wife said he had a dirty mind—who just re-told the story of Ulysses in modern Dublin pubs. Your grandchildren will be told that this is the greatest novel of all time.

4 You might have played around with a naked crystal receiver called a radio, therefore revolutionizing that fine old word “reception.”

5 There’s a 96 percent chance that you won’t be going to college and about a hundred percent chance that you won’t need to.

6 You may be mourning the loss of Marcel Proust, the writer who made gossip and madeleine cakes famous; Cap Anson, the baseball superstar with the Chicago “White Stockings;” and the indefatigable Nellie Bly, who went around the world in fewer than 80 days.

7 You will encounter a world where once-dominant Turkey has at last been kicked out of the Middle East, thus setting up years and years of sectarian conflict and desperate disputes over oil.

8 A sweet guy named Joe Stalin, a former theology student, has become number 2 in the Russian Communist Party,

9 You’d have emerged the same year that a St. Louis-born poet wrote a fragmented poem about a long drought in some waste land.  Your grandchildren will learn that this is the greatest poem of the twentieth century.  

10 Ireland has always been a free state, with Ulster remaining loyal to the British crown much to the dismay of its Catholic citizens and launching years and years of “Troubles.”

11 Some strutting political force called “fascism” has risen in Italy, but no one will have thought it would last long,

12 Some “moving pictures” now last over an hour—they still don’t talk, but the organ music is great.

13 An Austro-English philosopher has written a perplexing little book whose main idea seems to be that we should all spend more time remaining silent. Your grandchildren will be told that this is one of the greatest philosophical works of all time.

14 A new party in Britain, called Labor, has emerged as the number two political force, becoming the party of workers and intellectuals.

15 If you have diabetes, there’s a new treatment called insulin.

16 Major powers have just signed a disarmament treaty, thus guaranteeing that there will be no more wars like the last one (your male child will likely fight in World War II).

17 Egypt has just become an independent nation one again.

18 A small city in Holland hosts the first-ever international court of justice—outlaws on the world stage should beware, but they don’t seem to be nervous.

19 A severely frightening film about a vampire has premiered in Berlin.

20 President Harding has made it official: there is now a radio in the White House.

21 A scrawny lawyer named Gandhi has been arrested for sedition in the big Indian city of Bombay. Everyone knows his quest for Indian independence is futile.

22 There’s a new-fangled United States ship that they call an “aircraft carrier.” Japan has one, too.

23 Planes from the new commercial airlines are now crashing in mid-air.

24 The American Secretary of the Interior has just leased a Federal oil reserve to private interests—the area in Wyoming has the strange name of “Teapot Dome.”

25 The state of Massachusetts has recently opened all its public offices—to women.

26 The Prince of Wales, not thinking at all of divorced American women to fall in love with, is taking his duties seriously with a one-month tour of Japan.

27 Eight priests have been executed in Russia for opposing confiscation of church property.

28 The foreign minister of the democratic government in Germany is assassinated, but most folks think that the bitterly-defeated nation will settle down, even though it takes 3,000 marks to buy one U.S. dollar.

29 The great experimental artists Stravinsky, Joyce, Picasso, and Proust have dined together in Paris, but there is no record of anything said other than perhaps “more snails, si’l vous plait.”

30 There is now actually a woman senator in the American Congress, but she was appointed by the governor of Georgia and will not serve long.

31 Big doings in California: the new Rose Bowl stadium has just opened, an open-air Hollywood Bowl is available for concerts, and the last grizzly bear in the state has been shot to death.

32 A radio broadcast license in the United Kingdom now costs ten shillings, but there is talk that the whole business is going to be merged into something called the BBC.

33 Folks are now able to see inside old King Tut’s tomb for the first time in over 30 centuries.

34 Ukraine has just joined the new “Soviet Union.”

35 Bucking bronco addles are now hornless: better for rodeo sales.

Tom McBride (mcbridet@beloit.edu)

Ron Nief (niefr@beloit.edu)

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