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Ah, the Good Old Days. Or Were They?


Each New Year you see a lot of historical comparisons, detailing amazing changes in the American way of life from 50 or 100 years ago. A dozen eggs, for example, cost 14 cents way back when, while you can't buy a single egg for 14 cents today. Of course, factoring in inflation, 14 cents in 1907 is about $3.00 today -- which would indeed buy a dozen eggs in most stores. So don't let those old, cheap prices fool you.

Still, things are pretty cushy for us, compared with folks in 1907, when there were just 8,000 automobiles in this entire, vast country -- and a mere 232 kilometers of paved roads to drive them on. Only one in seven U.S. households had a bathtub on New Year's Day 1907, and barely one in 12 homes had a telephone. The three leading causes of death were pneumonia, influenza, and tuberculosis, which are largely under control today.

This was still a primitive country in places back then. Consider Las Vegas, Nevada, where a glitzy new casino seems to rise from the desert every week to accommodate the city's 39 million visitors each year. In 1907, Vegas was a tiny desert watering hole with exactly 30 residents.

Still, it's hard to compare eras objectively. We romanticize the slower, idyllic golden times gone by. There were, for instance, only 230 murders in all of America in 1907. Every big American city suffers that many today.

But remember: The 1907 crowd in their bowler hats and petticoat dresses had no computers, no air conditioners, no passenger airplanes, no microwave ovens, no television sets, no polio vaccine. And how those poor wretches scraped a life together without credit cards and electric guitars, we'll never know.

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