My mother was born on December 15, 1917. She died just shy of 98 years old in 2015. These time-marking dates got me thinking about the world that she entered.
Public health policies had overcome most pandemics by 1917. There was only one pandemic still ahead, the flu epidemic of 1918. That was the last one the West ever saw. While there have been tremendous developments in medicine since 1917, most notably penicillin and the development of sulfa drugs, the great breakthroughs in terms of increased life expectancy had been made by 1917 in the West. They were more a matter of public health policies than of specific medical inventions.
The world of 1917 had technologies that we know well: electricity, telephones, phonographs, roll-film cameras, automobiles, airplanes, movies, and air conditioning. There were electrical household tools: stoves, washing machines, toasters, refrigerators, and vacuum cleaners.
So far, 1917 sounds like today. The improvements technologically have been cumulative.
What about politics? The Progressive movement was in control of both political parties. That had become clear in the election of 1912, when all three presidential candidates were openly Progressives. In 1913, the United States ratified the federal income tax and the direct election of Senators. In December of that year, the government created the Federal Reserve System. The United States was still on a gold coin standard, but Europe had abandoned it shortly after the war began in August 1914. The world had begun to enter into a new era: the era of fiat money.
Politically, the nation had a steeply graduated income tax in December 1917: 67%. This had been imposed earlier that year by Congress, after Congress…