October 8, 2009

10 per decade: 1900s

It’s scarcely a secret that I have an unyielding love for the decades that comprise the mid-twentieth century. They’re the main focus of this blog and a perpetual source of inspiration for me on every front from fashion to home decor. However, I’ve always been a tremendous fan of many historical time periods (Georgian and Victorian are two perpetual favourites) and recently began to think about elements from decades of the 20th century – other than just the 30s, 40s and 50s – that I’ve long been interested in/inspired by/fascinated with.

Such thoughts lead me to the idea of creating a ten part “miniseries” of posts, each one devoted to a different decade of the twentieth century. Instead of being an exhaustive timeline of events that transpired during each decade, I decided it would be scores of fun to look at ten different elements (one for each year, though not necessarily one from each specific chronological year) – be they clothing trends, historical events, products that were released/created for the first time, famous figures, etc – that I adore and/or feel help to define a given decade for me. True to my usual style, I’m sure you’ll agree that my lists will be splendidly eclectic.

As Maria sang in the Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, [it’s a] very good place to start”. In this case the beginning of the 20th century, the decade sometimes referred to as the “hundreds” or, back in the day, the “aughts”.

This was a time of almost overwhelming progress, discovery and change. The Industrial Revolution that had flourished throughout the 1800s was still booming as the world emerged into the first decade of the last century of the second millennium :) Cars were beginning to take to the road, Art Nouveau was still popular amongst artists and art lovers alike, the Wright Brothers were changing the face of air travel with their famous flight at Kitty Hawk, and silent films suddenly had crowds lining up far and wide to see those new fangled motion pictures.

{Gibson Girl}

{As this sparklingly new century began, women’s fashions retained many of the elements of the late Victorian period. Though as the years progressed silhouettes and tailoring softened a bit, the majority of ladies weren’t quite free of the confines of boned corsets quite yet. In fact the centuries old practise of wearing constrictive undergarments would play a large role in helping to create one of the most iconic styles of the 1900s, that of the Gibson Girl. Demure and slender, romantically beautiful and deeply feminine, the original Gibson Girl sprung from an illustration by artist Charles Dana Gibson, though many others would go to draw similar women for everything from product advertising to catalogue pages. With her tumbling curls, softly chiselled features, microscopic waist, and mile-long long legs, the Gibson Girl was a predecessor of sorts for the both pin-up artists and supermodels that would follow in later decades. Image source.}

{Kodak Brownie Camera}

{Introduced in 1900 with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”, the Brownie Camera from the Eastman Kodak Co. is often credited with helping to bring photography to masses. Its price tag of one dollar and smaller size meant that cameras could suddenly find their ways into just about any photo enthusiast’s hands for decades to come. Image source.}

{First Girl Guides/Girl Scouts}

{In 1909 a small group of adventurous young girls wanted to take join in the fun activities they saw their brothers and male classmates participating in as part of the newly created Boy Scout movement. Determined that boys weren’t going to be the only ones to call themselves Scouts, these girls donned uniforms and accompanied a large group of lads to a (now famous) rally that was being held at Crystal Palace, where they bravely told the founder of the Boy Scouts, Lord Baden Powel, they too wanted to be (Girl) Scouts. The rest, as they say, is history. Image source.}

{Movie Theatres debut}

{One of the first theatres devoted to showing motion pictures was the Nickelodeon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, opened in 1905. The cinema’s name – which many will recognize today as the name of a well known TV channel – came from the price of admission (a nickel) and the Greek word theatre (odeion). Soon after many early movie theatres became known as Nickelodeons; such theaters often showed films that were 15 to 20 minutes long. The photo above is of a Nickelodeon theatre in Toronto, Ontario called the Comique, it operated between 1908 and 1914. Image source.}

{Toy Teddy Bears}

{It was a series of events that took place during a 1902 hunting trip that then president Theodore Roosevelt was on (when the president’s hosts captured and tied up a bear cub to ensure Roosevelt wouldn’t go home empty handed, the president insisted the bear’s life be spared and cub was set free) that would spur the creation of the modern teddy bear. Following that much publicized incident, a newspaper cartoon showing the president with a bear cub provided the inspiration that lead a Brooklyn candy store owner named Morris Michtom and his wife Rose to create a plush bear cub they dubbed “Teddy’s Bear”. The stuffed toy bears proved to be highly popular and lead the Michtoms to form the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, which remains one of the largest toy manufacturers in the US. Though other companies (such as the German brand Steiff) had produced earlier toy bears, the Michtom’s version tamed the “wild animal” aspect of the bear and transformed these critters into the cuddly playthings countless youngsters and toy collectors alike have cherished ever since. Image source.}

{Women participate in the Olympics}

{Women ushered in the century by taking part in the Olympics for the first time ever, at the 1900 summer games held in Paris, France. Though they were only permitted to participate in three events at the time (golf, tennis and croquet) – and the Olympic committee at the time did not officially support their participation in the games – this important milestone event was just one of many that women would go to achieve throughout the decade and onwards through the century. Image source.}

{Anne of Green Gables published}

{In 1908 Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery published Anne of Green Gables, the beloved story of a redheaded orphan who was adopted by an elderly couple that had been hoping for a son but were sent a young girl instead. Anne not only wove her way into her hearts of the Cuthberts, but into those of generations of readers young and old the world over. Today Anne and her story are well known symbols of Canada, particularly of Prince Edward Island, the beautiful island province where the book was set. Image source.}

{Animal Crackers}

{Who amongst us hasn’t bitten into a giraffe or tiger at some point, in the form of a biscuit that is! Animal crackers, those darling little cookies shaped like numerous zoo and farm animals have existed for over a century, and have been packaged in their familiar circus themed, rectangular box with a string handle since 1902 (the string was originally added so that the box could be used as Christmas tree decoration).The inspiration behind the box’s iconic packaging design was P.T. Barnum’s hugely popular circus. Image source.}

{Tiffany lamps}

{I’ve long been an admirer of Tiffany lamps, their intricate, gorgeous cut glass designs depicting such themes as flowers and dragonflies channel a wonderful Art Nouveau vibe. In 2007 a New York Times story highlighted the research of two historians that revealed many of Tiffany’s stunning lamps had in fact been designed by one of the company’s head employees, Clara Driscoll, not Louis Tiffany, the company’s founder – a fact that made me love these amazingly beautiful lamps even more. Image source.}

{Gustav Klimt paints The Kiss}

{One of my all-time favourite paintings was created during the “00s”, the endearingly romantic, colourfully elegant piece “The Kiss”, by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Painted between 1907 and ‘08, this passionate image depicts a couple in the throes of a tender embrace, the man’s lips gently kissing his lover’s check as the two perch on the end of a flower carpeted cliff. Image source.}

I do not have many personal ties to the 1900s, but I have long admired this decade and the Edwardian era it encompassed. Perhaps my main connection to the early twentieth century ties into the fact that when I was a child we lived for a time in an adorable little house that had been built in 1909. As a youngster who was deeply fascinated by the past (I enthusiastically read history books like many of my peers tucked into comics) – and who watched the TV show “Road to Avonlea” (based on some of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s stories) religiously each week – it felt incredible to call such an old home my own for a few years.

The next post in this series will delve into the 1910s, a decade plagued by both great hardships (WW1, the sinking of the Titanic, etc) and wonderful achievements (such as strives in women’s suffrage), as well as a noticeable change in ladies fashions.

The ten events and items above are some of the ones that jump out at me when I reflect on the 1900s, what happenings from this decade speak to you the most?


  1. You're blog never ceases to amaze and beguile! Ahhhhh.. what a fun eye candy!

  2. What a lovely idea! I just love your blog so much dear! Your are such a fantastic writer and always have the most inspirational and fantastic posts :)
    I love the 10 per decade. Lovely pictures and wonderful information. The 1900s are so great. I had no idea girl scouts started that early. I love the sketch of the Gibson girl you found and the Anne of Green Gables book cover (that is one of my very favourite books!!!)

  3. Oh I am going to love this series!! I think the 10 per decade is a fabulous idea.Todays' post was great. I am a huge fan of this kind of history. Anne of Green Gables is a favorite book and movie of mine. Looking forward to more from you my friend. Enjoyed this immensely

  4. Oh, I love this series! brilliant :-)

  5. Ok. I absolutely love this post! What a great idea Jessica. I forgot all about Road to Avonlea. I used to love that show! How wonderful it would be to buy a camera for $1.00 now. And those cookies and teddy's too cute. :)

    Hope you are feeling better! xoxo

  6. Wonderful post!! And what a fabulous idea!

    The Edwardian era is one of my favourite periods of the 20th century (next to the 1940's) :D

  7. Great post, i'm looking forward to the next one! Love the animal crackers box and the story of the teddy bear! xxx

  8. I have a side saddle from 1910. And 2 corset jackets that I am featuring this weekend. Great minds must think alike (hugs)

    Did you enter my giveaway??

  9. What a lovely idea and a great collection of images and source material! So very intriguing! I cannot wait for the rest x

  10. Lovely blog! I will def. be back!


  11. Another smashing post, Jessica! You're just too much, girl! Love this!

  12. I love this post and all the history you have provided us with.. you a very smart woman! Love the Gibson girl the best...but of course animal crackers and who doesn't love the Tiffany Lamp. Always a lesson to be learned,,, love that! have a good weekend my friend,, I'll try to get a note out this weekend!

  13. What a great idea! Some wonderful things happened, didn't they?
    Teddy bears clearly being the best. Hehe. I have a box brownie - I doubt it's quite that old but it looks very much the same. ;] We learned a little about them in photo history.
    -Andi x

  14. Fabulous post today! I am really excited to see what other fun images you find. And I adored the Anne books as a child so thanks for including them.

    Best wishes :)

  15. wonderful writing once again lovely... and klimts "the kiss" - still today as gentle and beautiful and full of wonder as the day it was painted... one of my favourite paintings indeed... looking forward to the next decade xxa

  16. Am I lame for not knowing what a Gibson Girl was before I read your post?? Thanks for sharing such great stuff - your blog is such a pleasure to read! :)

  17. A stunning post! Many of my favorites as well, particularly the Gustav Klimt painting. A wonderful time this was for women, who were really beginning to fight for their rights. Bravo!

  18. I adore this new series of you! And your selection is so amazing and well put together :-)

  19. I like the lamp very much! Have you a good day!

    I remain, &c.
    Alexander Dyle

  20. Your blog is a treasure trove girl...love to you across the miles...

  21. I am just glad I did not have to wear a Girl Scout uniform like those! It is a great picture though. Love the 10 things per decade idea a lot and look forward to the 1910s and beyond :)

  22. Hi lovely dears, thank you each deeply for your wonderful comments. I'm thrilled by the positive response that this first post in the "10 per decade" series as received. Your collective enthusiasm will really help spur me on as I put together posts for the other nine decades in the coming weeks.

    Huge thanks, many hugs & joyful Monday wishes to you all!
    ♥ Jessica


    @ Kristen, you're not lame in the least, sweet heart. I feel special knowing that my blog helped you discover who - and what - a Gibson Girl was.

  23. How I love the Gibson girl! Femininity at it's classically finest...