Exciting Times in Carlinville, Illinois
The first decades of the 20th century were a bright and shiny time of progress with new inventions that improved people’s lives. It was also an era of death, as the the Great War dragged on claiming millions of lives. Perhaps the only positive outcome of the war was that the military greatly improved upon the Wright brothers’ airplane of 1905. By 1918 airplanes could even occasionally be seen flying above Carlinville.
Even though World War I wouldn’t end until November, Carlinville citizens must have thought that 1918 was a very good year for their town. They had strong farming economy and a respectable number of industries. A Chamber of Commerce promo lists among other things a tile factory, brick factory, the Starr Brothers’ Creamery, three dairies, and a small coalmine that provided fuel for the community. But in 1918 the Standard Oil Company sank two coalmines in Carlinville to fuel their Wood River refinery. And so began the town’s heyday.
From newspaper snippets I read, it is clear that citizens were positively giddy with excitement at all the new jobs, population growth, and increased tax base. But there were not enough houses for the men coming for the mining jobs, so some lived in dormitories at the the mine or in the spare rooms of citizens, who willingly opened their homes at the mayor’s request to do so. But neither of those stopgap measures were going to work for men with families. So Standard Oil told the city that if they’d annex a suitable property, they’d build 156 Sears homes.
As excited as everyone was, I imagine at least a few people took “snapshots” of the new neighborhood arising out of a corn field. Kodak had introduced the Brownie camera in 1900 for a mere $1 with film at only 15 cents a roll. So I included a Brownie camera in More Than Meets the Eye.
And there were other amazing inventions that had recently come on the scene, making it truly an exiting time to live.
A “snapshot” of life in 1918 Carlinville
Electricity was being harnessed for a variety of new inventions. I can picture people thumbing through their Sears catalogs looking at all the new gizmos and gadgets.
Some housewives were fortunate to have the new-fangled electric Hoover vacuum sweeper (as of 1908) And by 1909 they had electric toasters (The pop up type came ten years later.) But better by far was the electric refrigerator, which arrived in the kitchens of rich folk by 1913.. Everyone else still used iceboxes for some years to come.
People in the country were out of luck when it came to electricity and the gadgets it powered. In 1920 only 1% of farms had electricity. It wasn’t until the 1930s and 40s that everyone else was on the grid. A man named Roy Goode describes the excitement when it came to his farm:
I can still remember in December 1937 exactly where I was and when I saw the lights come on. My brother and I were walking from the barn to the house and suddenly the house lit up and we were excited about that because it was the first time we had electricity in rural areas. (I Remember When)
I was fascinated to learn that in 1918 Carlinville also had electric streetcars and was a stop on the Illinois Traction System that crisscrossed the state, connecting hundreds of small towns that weren’t on the main rail lines. How amazing it must have seemed to travel to the far reaches of the state and beyond in a single day.
And then there was Henry Ford’s invention! By 1918, the Model T, introduced in 1908, was becoming more readily available due to Ford’s ingenious mass production methods. And the roads to accommodate vehicular traffic were coming along, too.
In 1910 asphalt, a petroleum by-product, was first used to pave roads and streets. Five years later, Portland cement was an additional paving material.The first electric stop light was invented in 1910, although I doubt Carlinville had any in 1918.
Radio didn’t come on the scene until 1920.
Station KDKA in Pittsburgh [became] radio’s first scheduled commercial programmer with its broadcast of the Harding-Cox presidential election returns, transmitted at 100 watts from a wooden shack atop the Westinghouse Company’s East Pittsburgh plant. Throughout the broadcast KDKA intersperse[d] the election returns and occasional music with a message: “Will anyone hearing this broadcast please communicate with us, as we are anxious to know how far the broadcast is reaching and how it is being received?” (Timeline of History)
Since More Than Meets the Eye is set in 1918-19, there are no radios in it. But telephones had been available from turn of the century. Edison made the first transcontinental call in 1915. But of course not every household was blessed with one.
Carlinville citizens were fortunate to have running water and a municipal sewer system. A book on new improved sewerage was published in 1914 and became the standard for the next decades. And the Carlinville town council invested in the infrastructure for the miners’ houses Sears Addition as well. Each house there had a lovely indoor bathroom, tiled in pretty blue and white porcelain tiles. In case that doesn’t sound as amazing to you as it does me, consider that my grandmother never had an indoor toilet until the day she died in the 1960s. In fact, I’m pretty sure she would have loved everything about the little Sears Roseberry featured in More Than Meets the Eye.
It would be so nice of you to share!