Transformation of Everyday Life: 1860 – 1906

The nearly half-century between 1860 and 1906 was one of the most explosive growth periods in human history, both in knowledge and technology. Consider:

When the era began, disease was thought to be transmitted by “bad air”, and was treated with leeches, cupping, purgatives, and other even more noxious treatments. By the end of the era, Pasteur had demonstrated the role of germs in disease, handwashing became the norm for surgeons (!), antiseptics such as iodine and alcohol came into use, and vaccination by injection was invented and in general use.

At the beginning of the era, news could in general only travel as fast as the fastest horse (on land) or the fastest clipper ship (at sea). During the era, however, the telegraph invented in 1838 was expanded first locally and then from coast to coast. A transatlantic cable was laid. The telephone was invented and by the end of the era over three million telephones were in use the the U.S.. Communication went from a leisurely fifteen miles per hour to instantaneous.

Prior to 1860, all paperwork was done by hand, and all financial transactions were tallied up the same way. By the end of the era, the typewriter had revolutionized writing and the adding machine and cash register had done the same for monetary activities. Even the humble paper clip was developed during this period.

Refrigeration and canned food were invented during this era, revolutionizing the preservation of food, and closed cooking ranges made meal preparation vastly simpler. The vacuum cleaner and sewing machine were invented. The coffee percolator, camera, and audio recordings were developed. Even the ordinary safety pin and mousetrap were children of this era.

Advances in transportation were no less breathtaking. At the beginning of the era the speed-conscious traveler could choose between horses and ships– nothing more rapid was available. By the end of the era the locomotive had transformed long-distance travel on land, and steamships had done the same at sea. Even bicycles and rollerskates made their debut during this era.

Plastics were invented. Electricity was tamed and made available to the common man. The list goes on and on.

An individual entering adulthood at the beginning of the era experienced during his or her lifetime an astounding transformation in every facet of life. A new age dawned, with blinding speed, and the world has never been the same.