November 25, 2012

10 per decade: 1910s

(This post is the second in an ongoing series in which ten notable highlights of each decade of the twentieth century are profiled. The first post about the 1900s appeared back in October of 2009, so it’s definitely time for another edition of 10 per decade!)

The 1910s were a decade that saw suffering on previously unthinkable levels for those nations involved with WW1. Sombre as the night is dark and fraught with heartache, much of this decade was enshrined with worry, grief, suffering and loss of life – due not only to the outbreak of a massive and hugely destructive conflict – but also because of devastating events such as the Armenian Genocide, Spanish Flu Pandemic, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and sinking of the Titanic.

Few decades have held as much suspense, strife and heartbreak (not to mention politic revolution) as the 1910s. Yet, even in the face of staggering worldwide hardship and loss, a truly extraordinary array of vitally important milestones, breakthroughs, inventions and political events transpired which would go onto forever alter the course of human history.

As outdated misogynistic views slowly began to fall away, female suffragists from many nations (such as Canada, Netherlands, Russia, and Australia) finally had their battle cries answered when they received the right to vote (others still would have to wait until the 1920s or beyond before they could stand in line alongside men in order to cast their vote).

Not everything that transpired during these all-too-often solemn years was shrouded in grave seriousness though. This was the decade that gave rise to a mass exodus away from the wearing of corsets, as women were finally able to breathe again (well, at least a whole lot more easily) for the first time in many decades – though their ability to walk at a decent pace was briefly halted when hobble skirts came into vogue. Looser garments, varying lengths of hemlines, soft fabrics, high heels, wide brimmed hats, opulent styles, lithe silhouettes, Asian influences, Parisian Couture, monochromatic looks, and shorter haircuts for women were just some of the fashion hallmarks of this period.

Discoveries abounded in during this ten year span, from Ernest Rutherford’s unearthing of the structure of the atom to Henry Ford’s invention of the automobile assembly line, Harry Brearly’s creation of stainless steel to Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.

The second decade of the 20th century gave rise to many delightfully one-of-a-kind characters, from Charlie Chaplin to Man Ray, Theda Bara to Luisa Casati. These were years during which Freud held court over the world of psychiatry, Zane Grey novels begin to capture the hearts of wild west fans, George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion sets the stage for its later film interpretation My Fair Lady, and the first American coast-to-coast long distance telephone call took place (fittingly, it was placed by Alexander Graham Bell).


The moment one thinks of the words magician or escape artist, it's a safe bet to say that Harry Houdini's name is that first springs to mind - and for good reason. Though Houdini certainly did not invent either of these forms of enthralling entertainment, he excelled at carrying them out so well that he often left his audiences wondering if he didn't in fact posses supernatural powers.

While Houdini preformed between the years of 1891 and his untimely passing (the circumstances of which have always had an air of mystery them) in 1926, it was one particular act, his Chinese Water Torture Cell (for which he was hang upside-down inside of a well locked steel and glass cabinet filled to the brim with water), introduced in 1912, that truly helped to cemente his name in the history books and help turn him into a larger than life figure.

Many escape artists and magicians have come and gone since Houdini's time, and while a number have achieved fame in their own right, there has yet to be anyone quite as impressive or legendary than the great Harry Houdini himself.

{Crossword puzzle debuts in America}

Though I'm the first to admit, much as I adore many different types of word games, I've never been overly into crosswords. That said, I have certainly done a few in my time, and very much admire those who excel at this classic word puzzle. Today it's hard to imagine any sizeable newspaper lacking a crossword, this beloved head scratcher isn't actually as old as you might think.

The first (known) example of a crossword puzzle appeared in an Italian magazine in 1890, though it would be another couple of decades before the English speaking world got a chance to try their hand - and their pencils (or pens, for the extra confidant) - at this delightful pastime. Crossword puzzles first started springing up in British publications in the 1910s and quickly spread across the pond to to America and beyond.

Though crossword puzzles had some harsh early critics, many of whom protested that they were a massive waste of time (ohhhh, those glorious pre-internet days), they had far more fans, and in the decades that have followed millions of these challenging, entertaining puzzles have been published and attempted by cruciverbalists the world over.

{Pulitzer prize established}

The dream of countless writers, and lucky award for a select few, the Pulitzer Prize was founded in 1917, initially using funds ($250,000) left specifically for Columbia University to create a journalism school and establish an industry wide prize for journalists everywhere, by newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer.

Under the terms Pulitzer laid out, there were to be four awards handed out annually: one in each is journalism, education, letters and drama, and four traveling scholarships (today Pulitzer prizes are awarded in 21 different categories).

Since its inception nearly 100 years ago, the Pulitzer Prize has remained one of the top honours a writer or journalist (be they a writer or a photographer) can receive, with past recipients including such distinguished names as Eugene O'Neill, Robert Frost, Edward Albee, William Faulkner, John Updike, and Norman Mailer.


Having gained momentum and popularity in in the later half of the Victorian era and into the Edwardian/Belle Epoque years as an avant-garde style, the Expressionist movement was centered around a desire that was held by many artists of the time to express personal meaning or emotional experience, instead of (merely) just a stark physical reality.

Initially popular amongst artists and poets, as the years rolled on, Expressionism spread to other corners of the creative world, too, including literature, film, dance, theaters, music, and architecture. As with most artistic movements, Expressionism can be challenging to neatly summarize or pin down, encompassing a vast array of mediums and individuals, with painters Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh often seen as two of the most important figures in the movement.

The 1910s are often considered to be the heyday of the the Expressionist movement, as the world shifted away from the staunchness of the Victorian period and towards the less repressed, creativity fuelled years of the 1920s.


Perhaps the most famous fictitious feral person the world has ever known, Tarzan, the beloved jungle inhabiting, vine swinging, Jane obsessed wild man has been a part of popular culture for 100 years now, having first appeared the pulp magazine All-Story Magazine in 1912.

The creation of author Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan was a British born lad who ended up being raised by apes after he was marooned with his parents (both of whom died while he was young) off the Atlantic coast of the continent. He grew up in the dense wilds of the African jungle, later encountering civilization again - one inhabitant of which, Jane Porter, he falls madly in love with. Though Tarzan ended up leaving his jungle home for a while to reside in England with Jane, the two eventually return and lived out their days in the place Tarzan views as his homeland.

The tale found favour with many readers of all ages and the first Tarzan movie hit the big screens in 1918, with nearly 90 more following in the years since (those the 1930s are amongst the most popular and usually included Tarzan's pet chimpanzee, Cheetah). To this day Tarzan remains a beloved character, who I suspect, we'll continue to visit at the theaters for a long time to come.

{Raggedy Anne}

Today she stands (or perhaps, more accurately, sits in a cute, slightly slouched over position) as one of the most iconic childhood toys, introduced to the world in a book of the same name in 1918. Raggedy Anne, that floppy bodied, redheaded sweetheart was the creation of American writer Johnny Gruelle, who combined elements from the titles of two poems ( "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphant Annie") to name handmade rag doll that his young daughter brought him.

This simple childhood toy inspired Gruelle to write both Raggedy Anne and Raggedy Andy (who appeared in 1920), and dolls were put out to accompany the stories pretty much from the get-go. Now nearly a century later, both characters remain treasured symbols of many peoples' youth and are still available in print and doll form for new parents to carry on the Raggedy Anne and Andy tradition with their own children.

{Modern bra invented}

While a garment (or piece of material) that supports a woman's breasts is by no means a twentieth century invention, the modern brassiere as we know it today is largely believed to have emerged on the scene during the 1910s when a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob is credited with creating the first triangular cup bra. To do she sewed two handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon together to create a less bulky undergarment (than a corset) to wear under a sheer evening gown.

Mary's invention proved popular with friends and family, and soon the demand for her bras was so high that she started a company called Caresse Crosby and patented her design. She didn't stay in business for long though, selling her company to the undergarment manufacturer Warners for a mere $1,500.

In the coming years and decades large companies like Warner and individuals alike continued to improve the design of the bra, later creating alphabetized cup sizes, adjustable hook and eye bands, and underwire support (all of which helped create the iconic bullet bra styles of the 1950s that we, as vintage fashionistas, still adore to this day).

{Life Saver candies introduced}


Ever since I was a little girl, Lifesavers candies have been amongst my very favourite sweets (I have fond memories of waiting for a five and dime store in a neighbouring town to hold sales every couple of months when I was little, because it meant that my siblings and I could stock up on Lifesavers at the princely price of four packages for a dollar). I like that, for all the various flavours they've come in over the years, Lifesavers have always struck me as a such a humble, unassuming candy. One simply chooses a flavour, pops the sweet in their mouth and enjoys the satisfaction that comes from seeing how long you can make it last (or biting right into it, whichever you prefer).

Lifesavers made their debut in 1912, when confectionary maker Clarence Crane created a candy that could withstand the sweltering summer head better than chocolate. Crane wasn't the first to invent a hard sucking candy, but he may very well have been the first to whip up one with a hole in the middle.

Pep-O-Mint was the first Lifesavers flavour, but several others (including violet) quickly appeared on the scene and scores of others have followed in the decades to come. To this day, much as when I was a youngster, cherry and butterscotch remain my favourite Lifesavers flavours - how about you?

{Lt. Colonel John McCrae writes In
Flanders Fields}

In the thick of World War 1, having just presided over the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was inspired to pen one of the most touching and endearing war poems of all time: In Flanders Fields.

Though tragically McCrae passed away while still commending his unit in 1918, his gripping, soulful poem and the legacy of wearing a poppy in honour of those who have served and fallen in battle remain an integral part of Remembrance Day ceremonies and celebrations to this day.

{Invention of the zipper}

Right up there, in my mind, with other great twentieth century inventions such as sliced bread and scotch tape that helped make everyday life easier, the zipper revolutionized the the garment industry and forever changed how we fastened our clothing.

The idea of a device that resembled a zipper had been around for at least a few decades prior, but it wasn't until 1917 that the Gideon Sundbäck company perfected the design and created what we'd now view today as something on par with our modern zippers.

This handy metal (later made from other materials, too, chiefly plastic) fastener gained popularity quite quickly and was employed with much success by garment and luggage manufactures in the years and decades to come, to the point where it's hard to imagine (much as I love buttons) a world without handy-dandy zippers in it.

{To learn more about an image, or any of the topics covered here, please click on an image to be taken to its respective source.}

If the 1910s were a colour, I think it’s a safe bet to say that they would be grey – yet, amongst the dark gloom, the twinkle and sparkle of diamonds could also be seen, as the world witnessed the first movie stars emerge, radio catch on like wildfire, and as the decade drew to a close, the prospect of hope clawed its way out from the carnage of the past ten years.

On the horizon lay the wild, eccentric, madcap years of the 1920s, a time of liberated freedoms, the rise of youth culture on a widespread level before which the world had never known, and imaginative new takes on art via such movements as Surrealism and Art Deco.

Next up in this continuing look at each decade of the last century, I’ll delve into covering these zany, exciting, fun filled years and ten of the events, culture icons and highlights of the roaring 20s – a time when being young was more fun than ever, jazz music exploded in popularity, and bobbed haircuts were to be seen just about everywhere one looked.


  1. This is such a wonderful post Jessica! It was really nice to read a summary of what was happening and see little snippets of the up and coming products introduced at that time. I had no idea about most of the things that came out of this decade and this was very enlightening. My grandmother still makes a Raggedy Anne and Andy for children when they are born in my family. My set is in my cedar chest right now. Thank you so much for this post!

    1. Thank you very much for your lovely comment, Jamie. That is so tremendously sweet about your grandmother making classic rag dolls for the new editions to your family. I adore heartwarming traditions like that.

      ♥ Jessica

  2. I adore this period! Thanks for sharing! :)

  3. I looove 1910s! So interesting post ! Thanks !:)

  4. Great post, I do enjoy well written interesting points of history

  5. Really interesting and informative post, Jessica. Funny how we use zips all the time without really giving them a second thought. What a joy it must have been when the first bras started coming in. Interesting, I always used to favour Warners undies because they did wonderful matching sets.

  6. What a wonderful -- and ambitious -- series. I commend you on the ginormous effort it takes to put a post like this together. (I've done a few history posts on my blog but narrowed to a single subject, like fashion; your multi-subject approach is exponentially more demanding.)

    The best thing about learning history is when it changes our perspective; too often we rely on faulty impressions from unreliable sources (e.g., common myths; old movies).

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed the landmarks of the 1910's you chose to share. I think it was even more enthralling because of the variety of subjects covered. What a wonderful and fun post, I look forward to the next post in this series. Thank you!

  8. I find the 1910s so interesting. Next to the 40s I think this is me second fave!

  9. Oh wow, what a wonderful post! So much work... and how do you decide what to write about?? I really enjoyed reading your post, and definitely learnt some fun facts. Love the painting you picked for Expressionism too.

    1. Thank you very much, Marie. Much as with the first post in this series, this one didn't come together on the fly. I began brain storming possible topics to include a few months ago, narrowed down the list (I wanted a good sense of variety, and for the topics to be ones that interested me personally, as I find that usually helps make whatever you're writing about more enjoyable) over time, and worked on the post itself over the course of a few days.

      ♥ Jessica

  10. Thank you for the wonderful introduction to this period. I love that you highlight things that were developed during the time, like the zipper, that we are so habituated to that we forget there was a time they didn't exist.

    You put so much effort into this piece and shared so much thoughtful informations with us. Love it!

  11. Oh Jess I loved this post. Omg! What a great read! You know at first I didn't want to watch "Downton Abbey" but Brittany kept telling me "watch it! watch it!" so eventually I did. I didn't want to bc I never thought I would enjoy that period of history but I was wrong! I love it and reading this post put it all fresh in my mind again. What an incredible time in history. I look fwd to more of this series! Bravo dear girl! xox Bunny

    1. Many sweet thanks, Bunny, for your wonderfully lovely comment. I've seen some, but not all of the episodes of DA yet myself, and certainly hope to for sure at some point. So happy to know you're hooked, too! :)

      ♥ Jessica

  12. Love this post. I feel like I'm getting a great history lesson. It's funny how you did a small expose on Expressionism. It's my favorite art movement and I just love Franz Marc. I had the opportunity once to visit Munich and I was able to see some of his work there. Ahh, Raggedy Ann, when I was a little girl she was my favorite doll. I remember only being able to have garage sale Raggedy Ann's but I still loved them:)

  13. I absolutely love the photo of Houdini!

  14. Loved the ten of the 1910s. It's fascinating why and how things are invented. I guess I was most surprised at the crossword history with early puzzle. I don't think I have never wondered when crosswords were invented, but it is fascinating.

    Best Wishes,

    1. I had no idea when they were invented prior to starting my research for this post either. In a way, I would have thought they'd been around for longer (perhaps simply because of their longstanding popularity), but was happy just the same that the weren't, because it meant that were able to get a spot in this post. :)

      Thank you very much for your lovely comment, dear Amanda,
      ♥ Jessica

  15. Great timing for me, I've been delving deeper into this particular time period, I'm absolutely fascinated by it. Wonderful!

    Ruby xx

  16. Fantastic post, particularly your description of the decade as grey in colour with touches of diamonds.
    I do admire Tarzan's make up - those early films are classics. I am looking forward to reading more of these posts. Great work putting all this together! :)

  17. Oh this is fabulous!! I can't wait for more!


  18. Wow sweetie this is practically a interesting one tho! wouldn't it be great to wriggle your nose and be back in that era...just for a visit....don't think I could cope with the 'smells' for long...

  19. Such a fabulous post! I enjoyed it very much and it included a couple of my favorite things. I have always been a huge Tarzan fan and at one point we had a kennel that we named Greystoke after the Earl Greystoke himself. (Which gives me an idea to name my new kitty) And I have also been a collector of Raggedy Ann for years but this past summer sold off most of my collection, only keeping a few pieces that were dear to my heart, like the Ann and Andy dolls that my mother made for me.

    And who knew that about crossword puzzles! I can't wait for the next decade!

  20. Houdini looks so serious, like an athlete. Modern day magicians look so stylized.

  21. Love this series of yours! Waiting for the next part. :)

  22. Well done! Great idea and realization.

    Looking forward to the next post about 20's :))

  23. Very interesting and thorough post about a very interesting era! As for Life-savers, I understand they are now only available in rolls at holiday time--gift packaged. The rest of the year, individually wrapped and bagged--such bad news! My favorite image has got to be the diagram of the zipper! That is marvelous! Looking forward to the next round.

    1. Thank you very much for your lovely comment, dear Ann. I had not gotten wind yet of that change with Lifesavers candies. I don't buy them very often (much as I love them, I try to really limit the amount of sugar I eat in general, so I don't indulge in candy too frequently), but will definitely be checking the next time I'm at a grocery store or Walmart to see if we still have them in rolls in the candy racks here.

      ♥ Jessica