This week in history we’ll take a look at some of the downfalls and triumphs of American and world history, starting off with an era that may seem familiar to 2020 audiences.
On Sept. 28, 1918, 102 years ago – in fitting pandemic history – the Spanish Flu hit the city of Philadelphia in record numbers after thousands attended a city-sponsored parade.
Influenza, referred to back then as the Spanish Flu, had already hit in 1889. While it had resulted in thousands of deaths, the world did not understand the lethal strength of the flu until 1918. While poor recordkeeping in the past prevents an exact number to be determined, historians and health experts agree that between 20 million and 50 million people died during the pandemic.
Even though this particular strain was called the Spanish Flu, the virus actually originated in the American Midwest from a farm animal. Travel was limited in those days so viruses tended to stay contained in places where they first formed. Vast devastation came, however, because of American involvement in World War I.
When the United States first entered the war, a draft was implemented to supply troops to the frontlines of Europe. Young boys left the farms and headed to major American cities to join the ranks in boot camp, bringing the virus with them. The flu then followed the troops across the Atlantic to release its rage on the continent of Europe. The war was not limited to the trenches of France and Germany, however. Europe also held vast colonies in Africa, the Middle East, India, Indonesia and Australia, so nobody was able to escape the threat of the flu.
The great problem of the influenza pandemic was that no nation fighting in the war wanted to admit there was a problem. In order to keep spirits up and increase patriotism, events like the parade in Philadelphia were still held. Poor Spain, who stayed out of the war, was the only nation to accurately record their number of cases. The rest of the world immediately pointed their fingers at the Spanish as the cause of the outbreak and dubbed the virus: “the Spanish Flu.” In total, more people died during WWI from the flu than bullet wounds.
I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone to get their flu shots this year, as this was not an option for those who lost their lives 100 years ago.
On a lighter note, on Oct. 1, 1908, 112 years ago, the Ford Motor Company released the Model T.
Quite possibly the most iconic car to ever come out of Ford’s factories, the Model T revolutionized the automobile industry not because of how it was built, but rather, who it was built for. Before 1908, cars were owned exclusively by the wealthy, with less than 200,000 cars on the road nationwide. The Model T, however, was designed for ordinary people for everyday use.
While the 1908 Model T was fairly expensive, costing about 18,000 dollars in modern day, prices dropped as the years passed and plummeted with Ford’s implementation of the assembly line in 1914. By 1914, the factories of Detroit were able to produce thousands of cars per day with every employee on the line adding one component to the car in an orderly and rapid fashion. The automobile industry and manufacturing as a whole would never be the same.
The Model T was produced from 1908 to 1927, putting a total of 15 million cars on American roads. What was once a toy for American elites became a symbol of the working class family, as every hardworking individual could afford to buy a car. With so many new drivers on the road, this era also saw the invention of the stop sign and the traffic light, as well as the implementation of many driving laws that still exist to this day.