The Nature of Things: Birthday card reveals life as it was

The Nature of Things: There's more than one kind of SPAM

Everyone likes to take a trip down memory lane now and then, but how many people actually know the way things were when they came into the world. I received a birthday greeting a few days ago entitled "1921." That was the year I was born. In this card was a list of what is now called "trivia" about the year 1921. It is absolutely mindboggling to find out how the world has changed in one person's lifetime.

To set the stage of world history in 1921, WWI had ended just three years before I was born. The President of the United States was Warren Harding. His veep was Calvin Coolidge.

Benito Mussolini had just declared himself the leader of the Fascist party in Italy. Adolph Hitler was elected President of the Socialist German Worker's party. And the Communist party was formed in China that year. Europe was suffering from hunger and unemployment. So it seemed obvious that the storm clouds of another world conflict were already on the horizon in 1921.

For what it's worth, there was a list of several celebrities who were born in 1921. Among them were actress Jane Russell, comedian Rodney Dangerfield, TV host Steve Allen, actress Eva Gabor, journalist Hugh Downs, actor Chuck Conners, Senator Jesse Helms and astronaut John Glenn.

The news on the home front in 1921 included these items:

Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Tommy Milton won the Indianapolis 500 with the incredible speed of 89mph. The first radio broadcast of the World Series occurred, which was won by the Giants over the Yankees.

The first Miss America Pageant was held in Atlantic City, N.J. Penn State U. graduated the very first woman engineer. Police in Sanbury, PA issued an edict that required women's skirts to be at least 4 inches below the knee, and the new dance craze, the "Shimmy," was condemned as shameful.

At the movies, Charlie Chaplan and Jackie Coogan starred in "The Kid" and Rudolph Valentino wowed the ladies in "The Sheik." One of the hottest songs of 1921 was "Ain't We Got Fun."

But the most dramatic changes in America since then have been in the cost of living. A new home in 1921 was $7,019, a new car cost $420, average rent was $15 per month, tuition at Harvard U. was $200 per year, a movie ticket 15 cents, gasoline 11 cents per gallon and a U.S. postage stamp was 2 cents.

Here is a list of grocery prices in 1921:

Sugar 15 lbs. for $1.00, ground coffee 12 cents per pound, bacon 17 cents per pound, eggs 11 cents per dozen, hamburger 12 cents per pound and a fresh loaf of bread 10 cents. All of this could be bought from the average income of Americans, which was $2,134 per year.

Of all the statistics that were listed about the beginning of "The Roaring Twenties," none was more striking than the change in life expectancy. The average life expectancy in 1921 was 54.1 years. We live more than 20 years longer today, yet we still complain about our health care system.

So just for fun, if you are, say, more than 50 years old, see what you can dig up about the year you were born. I'll bet you will be surprised about the things that have changed since then.

E.H. Van Blaricom is a longtime columnist for the Chieftain. His column appears every other week.

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