New York and Eastern Rail Road

Circa 1905; Facts and opinions about life in 1905

At the turn of the century, three in five in the United States lived in a town having a population of less that 2,500. The United States of America was still more rural than urban, but it was already a world leader in industry, the U.S. benefiting from both a great abundance in natural resources and an economy organized by giant corporations. The United States led the world in the production of iron and steel, and it led Britain in manufacturing, the U.S. having 23.6 of the world's total against Britain's 18.5 percent. The United States produced half the world's cotton, corn and oil and a third of its coal and gold. The United States was also experiencing growth in agriculture, with the self-sufficient diversified farm giving way to specialized commercial agriculture. And the unfavorable balance of trade that had plagued the United States since its independence had been reversed.

At the turn of the century, the average workweek was twelve hours a day and six days a week. Coal miners were suffering and dying in appallingly large numbers from both accident and the environment in which they worked. Poor and immigrant children often worked alongside their parents, kids as young as seven or eight working twelve hours a day - for low wages that poor families needed mainly for food.

A big issue was a strike by coal miners in Ohio, Illinois, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, which threatened to shut down industries that used coal as their fuel, and threatened to leave people to freeze in their homes. The strikers wanted recognition of their unions, a twenty-percent increase in pay and an eight-hour day. Roosevelt disliked radical and aggressive labor leaders, and he was opposed to the closed union shop, but he gave some support to labor - the first president to do so. He encouraged owners of the mines and union representatives to accept arbitration by an outside party. The mine owners were indignant, but the strike ended in a compromise settlement. The miners failed to win recognition of their unions, but they received a ten percent increase in wages, an eight-hour day for engineers, firemen and pump men, and they received the right to submit future grievances to a board of conciliation.

Roosevelt was sensitive to issues about the great outdoors. In recent decades, lands had been passing out of government hands and into private ownership, for mining, oil extraction and timber cutting. Roosevelt wished to protect forests, watershed and federally owned lands. In 1902, he and Congress created reforms - the Newlands Reclamation Act - which requisitioned money from the sale of public lands and applied this money to the construction of dams and other works to improve the supply of water to agriculture.

In the 1904 presidential elections, Roosevelt was returned to office, running on what he called "the Square Deal. " Said Roosevelt: " I shall see to it that every man has a square deal, no less and no more." In his second term, the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act became laws, and with these laws the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created, whose task was to protect the American public by testing and approving drugs before they were allowed on the market. And in his second term, Roosevelt turned again to the issue of conservation. Lumber, oil and mining companies opposed his moves, and many western politicians feared that Roosevelt's conservationism would retard economic growth in their districts. But the Roosevelt administration went ahead and created more parks and made reserves of 17,000,000 acres of forest.

Adding to what might be called progress was the continuing proliferation of the "horseless carriage." In the summer of 1903, an automobile had been driven from San Francisco to New York City in sixty-three days. That year, another car, a Packard, did it in fifty-three days, and that year auto sales soared, Oldsmobile selling around 4,000 cars. In 1904, numerous people took cross-country driving vacations. The American Automobile Association organized a tour from New York to the Exposition in St. Louis, and fifty-nine autos made the trip.

The internal combustion engine made flying possible, the Wright brothers in 1905 having flown 24.3 miles in thirty-eight minutes. Then, in 1906, a benevolent aspect of the automobile became more apparent. That year the San Francisco earthquake became a turning point in the acceptance of engine powered vehicles. During that emergency, horses were dropping from heat exhaustion while supplies from motor trucks kept hauling needed supplies. The San Francisco Chronicle claimed the automobile had proved indispensable in saving parts of the city from fire.