Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On Riding A Bicycle

Most summers I ride my bicycle to work quite a bit.  I do that as it forces me to get a bit of exercise, it saves on the use of diesel fuel, and because I just like doing it. This year, however, I got around to that for the first time today.  I didn't get a chance earlier as it seems the City of Casper and the State of Wyoming has determined to rip up every street I might conceivable wish to ride on this summer, simultaneously.  On my way here today, for example, I went through two construction zones.

British Army bicycle, World War Two.

I have noticed more intrepid bicyclists riding through the highway construction zone near my house, so not all have been deterred.  In watching them, and in riding this morning, I've been reminded by some of the odd behavior bicyclists exhibit, and which motorist also exhibit in regards to them.  Only a minority of each exhibit these traits, but still, its interesting.

The dangerous motorist exceptions.

One thing that riding a bicycle causes you to encounter are the dangerous motorist, of which there are two types. The Super Courteous Motorist, and the Super Aggressive Motorist.  This morning, I encountered the Super Courteous Motorist.

People of this type, when encountering a bicycle stopped at an intersection, will choose to yield their right of way even it means getting everyone killed in the process.

That's what I encountered this morning.  I was stopped on a quiet residential street I take that intersects a very heavily traveled street. All I have to do is what a car, or a pedestrian, would do, which is wait for a break in traffic.  It's not a long wait.  Still, some motorist came to a screeching halt on the busy street nearly causing a fast moving car behind her to nearly plow right into her rear end.  She simply parked there in the street, with cars whipping around here, expecting me to proceed out into traffic.  I'm not going to do that, as she's the only party yielding and the same rules of the road that apply to cars, apply to me.  Finally, I had to get her moving again by repeatedly waiving her on, while other motorist went right around her.  I suspect she was probably insulted by my refusal to bike out into heavy traffic to validate her courtesy.  Still, it's not a very thoughtful action in the true sense. She was very nearly injured by the fact that a car behind her had to avoid crashing into her, and I would have been injured had I taken her offer up.

The opposite of this is the person who seemingly takes personal exception to somebody riding a bike.  They're not going to yield an inch, not even to give you a little more room when you are already over the fog line.  Doggone it, if they can't be bothered to ride, you can't either, even if it means blasting by you when they know they're close.

The arrogant bicyclist exception.

Just as there's a Super Aggressive Motorist, there's the super aggressive bicyclist.  These people know they have the same legal rights as automobiles, and they're going to use them. They ride in the travel lane no matter what.

The problem here is that bikes are actually not all that easy to see, and if a motorist doesn't see them, it's bad for the bicyclist.  Some bikers just won't acknowledge that for some odd reason.  As an example of this, the other day on my way to work I fell behind a bicyclist who absolutely refused to yield to vehicles.  We were in a 40 mph zone at the time, and he was riding fast, but not all that fast. Still, I slowed down and simply rode behind him. When the road divided and became two lanes, he kept it up. At that point the speed limit drops to 30 mph, but most people keep on going 40 mph.  I dropped my speed, and a person pulled out to pass me but did notice him.

What's the point of that.  If you get hit by a car, you're doomed. Wake up.

The funky bicyclist.

It's been a feature of American life since the late 1970s that anything the boomers take up comes with a new set of clothing no matter how long people have undertaken the activity.  So it is with bicycling.

Bikes first entered the American scene in numbers in the 1890s, where they were really the vehicle that really liberated people from what they cold do on foot in the cities.  Bikes have been around ever since, but it wasn't until the 1990s that people thought they had to dress like they were in the Tour de France to ride a bike.

If you look at photos from any era prior to that, you'll find a lot of people dressed in every day clothing riding bikes.  Men in suits, students in their day clothes, even soldiers in their uniforms.  Now people seem to think they have to wear a jersey and tight shorts.

Well, being a contrarian, I'm having none of it.  I've ridden a bike to work in the summer for 25 years and I wear my office clothes doing that.  Some days that means a tie.  I'm not going to ride in the Tour de France but I'm just as much of a bicyclist in the traditional sense as those guys.  I can wear what I want, and frankly a lot of people who don't race bikes (I get it for bicycle racers) could dress a little more normally as well.

Watch out for the Bull: Frank the Farm Truck Roars Back to Life

Watch out for the Bull: Frank the Farm Truck Roars Back to Life

Watch out for the Bull: Peach Cobblers and Cutting Hay

Watch out for the Bull: Peach Cobblers and Cutting Hay

Mid Week at Work: Drilling

In the pre hard hat days, obviously.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lincoln Nebraska + Two Toy Cameras


When I was a kid, I routinely wore a couple of items of camouflage in the winter. I had a camouflage Jones Hat, and a camouflage winter coat.  Both had the "duck hunter" pattern of camouflage, which is why I had them to start with.  I'm a duck hunter.

U.S. Army troops, World War Two, wearing the duck hunter pattern of camouflage developed for the Army.  This pattern wasn't used by the Army long, as it was found in Europe that troops routinely associated camouflage with the SS.  This photo is additionally interesting in that every soldier in the photograph is armed with a bolt action M1903 and M1917s rifles, rather than the M1 Garand, and the one soldier with a hat wears the early war pattern of fatigue brimmed hat.  It's probably a relatively early war photo.  The use of M1917s is fairly rarely seen in photographs from World War Two.

The duck hunter pattern was a product of World War Two.  The U.S. Army started developing it after the Germans, and then the British, introduced camouflage smocks early in the war. The Germans were pioneers in the field, realizing that with cotton print clothing it was now easy to issue a smock with a camouflage pattern.  The British did the same for paratroopers after being impressed with German paratroopers early in the war. The US followed suit, but not being too keen on smocks, simply went for a cotton camouflage uniform.

That uniform saw very little Army use in the war, because by the time the Army first fielded it in June 1944, camouflage was already heavily associated with German machinegun crews, and camouflage wearing U.S. troops started to take some friendly fire. So the pattern was withdrawn, and the existing clothing supplied to the Marines, who wore it in the Pacific.  That soured the US Army on camouflage for a long time, but duck hunters did take up the pattern post war, and it came to be identified with them as a result.  This was so much the case that when the Army first bought some camouflage uniforms, again in this pattern, on a limited basis early in the Vietnam War and during the Bay of Pigs adventure, for Cubans, it bought civilian duck hunter items, which were pretty close to the U.S. Army item of World War Two anyway.  Indeed, I have a shirt in the pattern that I used hunting as a kid, and it's darned near identical to the World War Two Army item.

It wasn't until the Vietnam War that the US really changed its mind about camouflage. The war saw the unofficial adoption of Vietnamized French patterns (the Lizard pattern) in the form of the Tiger Stripe pattern.  By war's end, the services had introduced the woodlands pattern in a tropical combat uniform, although it was issued mostly to Marines and Air Force ground support personnel.  It wasn't until the early 1980s that the Army started to issue a new woodlands pattern to every soldier.

By that time, I was in the National Guard and my basic training cycle was the first one at Ft. Sill to receive the new woodland uniform.  

At that time, if you wore camouflage, it meant one of three things.  1)  you were in the service; 2) you were  a hunter, and probably a bird hunter; 3) you'd recently been in the service. That's about it.

Somehow, since that time, the wearing of camouflage has exploded as a major fashion item.  It's simply everywhere.

Yesterday, in the office, I saw a pair of camouflage Capri pants.  I see camouflage ball caps everywhere.  Lots of kids routinely wear camouflage shorts.  I've even seen an advertisement for camouflage saddle oxford shoes.  

How did that all occur?
 Your camouflaged correspondent in South Korea.  First pattern woodlands BDU uniform, with woodlands M65 Field Jacket, and Vietnam War era pattern reversible helmet cover.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Western Union Horses

I was looking at something in regards to the Johnson County War the other day, and was reminded that the horses used by the Invaders were leased from Western Union. Indeed, one of the Invaders who detached from the column was identified as such by the fact that his horse bore their brand, and by that time, in Buffalo, they knew that the Invaders had Western Union horses.

Does anyone know the story behind Western Union horse. When did they stop leasing them and how much of their business was based no horse leasing?

Society of the Military Horse • View topic - Riding and physical fitness

Society of the Military Horse • View topic - Riding and physical fitness

The Big Picture: Employees of 7-20-4, R. G. Sullivan, Cigar Factory, Manchester, N.H., no. 192, Members of Cigar Makers, International Union, June 24, 1921

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Men, women, work and careers. Work in the age of certification

Recently there was some discussion on the nature of modern life and work on the excellent 1870 to 1918 blog.  This came about due to discussion on the entry regarding Newfoundland's soldiers on the Somme, although it isn't directly related to the contexts of that post.  The basic observations that inspired this post had to do with the decline in rural occupations, and indeed the yielding of those occupations to tourist based ones in some instances, and the change in the career and employment options available to women.  A couple of the older posts on this blog, including the one on Romanticizing the Past and Women in the Workplace were linked in, and they are relevant to this post, but already contained posts so I won't go back over and restate what's in those posts.

 Really rosy view of the availability of work from a British motivational series of the 1920s.  The campaign was obviously somewhat naive, but it did come in an era when there was less delineation between categories of work.

The comments to the thread developed a couple of significant themes, one being the nature of modern opportunities in general, and the other being the increased opportunities for women.

This blog, as we know, tries to explore the turn of the prior century, and often compares that period (and others) to the present one. We stray from that quite a bit, but this is a topic, albeit, a big one, that might be explored a bit here, as there are global changes to the nature of work in the US, and of course there's been a huge change in the nature of work for women.  And it raises some massive questions.  Has the nature of lifelong work improved, or declined?  Can that question even be asked when put in a gender context?  Has there been any changes for those entering employment, or sustaining employment, at all?  Was the motivational poster above really reflective of that period and how about now?

Let's start with the topic of female employment.

The entry of women into the non farm, and non domestic, workplace.

The story might not be quite the one that common folklore would have us believe.  We all know that story, which basically holds that women didn't work outside the home prior to World War Two, and the reason for that was both societal, and unfair.  Upon closer examination, that story doesn't hold up.  Rather, what we'd find is that the rise of women in occupations outside the home had been going on since at least the mid 19th Century, and it expressed itself first in occupations that had a close association with with existing female roles.  And the change, as we've already explored somewhat, was more than a little due to technology.  And as we can also see, it was partially due to the spread of wealth somewhat as well.  We can also see that women weren't exactly living a life of leisure prior to this slow shift, or during it.

A World War Two era poster saluting female workers, only one of which would have been in a "traditionally female" occupation at that time.  That tradition was actually quite thin, however, as even females secretaries, such as portrayed in the bottom left hand corner of the print, had only been around for a little over twenty years at that time, and only entered that field following the introduction of the typewriters. As already explored here, we take the position that the introduction of machinery, both domestic and in the office, brought about the introduction of women into the workplace, not World War Two.

a.  The mid 19th Century up to the mid 20th Century

Readers of this blog know that it is our view that the common story about World War Two bringing about a revolution in female employment outside the home is a myth.  Women were not employed in industry for the first time during World War Two and women by and large didn't stick with their industrial occupations post war.  That they were employed during the war is true, but as we've earlier noted, it was domestic machinery that changed their status, and indeed men's status, in regards to household duties.

Woman oiling machine tools, Colt Manufacturing, World War One.  Women occupied wartime industrial jobs during the Great War just as they did during World War Two.  It's just been forgotten.

Female English mechanic, World War One.  Supposedly Germany didn't have a female mechanic until after World War One.  This mechanic probably elected to leave her job after the Great War ended.

 British poster using the efforts of women as a YWCA campaign theme.  Women occupied an incredibly broad number of occupations during World War One.

Concerning machines, and as we need to start somewhere in this tale, something we've touched on only a little in regards to this story, is the introduction of a business machine that had a role in this revolution, although we have addressed it a bit before. That machine was the typewriter, and it's really the typewriter that started the revolution in "word processing" that's ongoing today.  When I first went to work in the law, a quarter century ago, typewriters were still in use and even now our office has one for limited use.  But when they came in, they were truly revolutionary.  One of their impacts was that they introduced women into the office.  We'll start this part of this story there.

 A photograph of a revolution.  Black tenant farmer's wife learning how to type, in hopes of off the farm employment.  This photograph comes right at the point in which thousands were making this transition, from necessary farm employment, now made easier due to mechanization and domestic machinery, to business employment.

The exact process of this is murky, but prior to the typewriter secretaries were generally male.  Certain types of secretaries, such as legal secretaries (scriveners) were specialist. Whey they were all males, as a rule, is something that's not clear to me, and it may in fact have been an accidental product of the domestic labor conditions at the time.  That is, scriveners were all day at their desks and in an era, as already explored, when there had to be by necessity people who were all day at their domestic tasks, perhaps that's just the way it is.  Be that as it may, however, the arrival of the typewriter and the arrival of the female secretary happened simultaneously and drove scriveners out of work fairly rapidly. The extent to which this bucked the general trend is hard to overestimate, as here we have a male job, with no domestic female equivalent job, in which women burst on to the scene, and took over the role, fairly rapidly.

More generally, however, taking into account what we know from earlier discussions, and adding to it what we've sent out above, what we can say is that the general effect of this process was that, at some point prior to World War One, and taking place over a very long time, a series of occupations had slowly opened up to women. They were very limited.  Nursing was one such profession.  Teaching was another.  Industrial seamstresses a third.  And starting around World War One, but more the case by the 1920s, secretaries were an exceptional forth.

Red Cross recruiting poster for nurses serving in the rural United States.  This poster shows the extent to which female occupations were already emerging in their own right. Public Health Nurses frequently operated without the assistance of doctors and largely on their own.  This nurse is shown mounted, and is riding in the conventional fashion.  Indeed, with the short stirrups she's actually riding in the English or Military fashion of the time, a fairly advanced seat.

All of this, of course, in addition to one of the most overlooked of traditional female occupations, that being the female unit of the farm family. That may sound odd, but it's amazingly overlooked. We should take a look at all of this a little more closely, starting with farming.

When people look back now, and say their "ancestors" were farmers, they often are more accurate than they know.  Farms were family units, male and female.  From antiquity to the up until even the present, it's really pretty much impossible to efficiently run a farm, if not outright impossible, as a single individual.  Our collective memories of pre World War Two farms, formed by such dramas as Little House on the Prairie or The Walton's, is very far off the mark.  Those who like the "Little House" series probably ought to read Giants In The Earth for a more realistic view of farming the north country.

 Greek peasants at Marathon. While this photo was obviously taken for another reason, it shows the ancient nature of farming still ongoing in this location at the time this photo was taken. Farmers in their field, including a woman.  The same scene no doubt existed at Marathon in the time frame of the famous battle.

More than any other occupation, women were involved in farming to an extent that made their role indispensable in the pre mechanization era.  Indeed, it was so critical that the conscription and enlistment of farmers during World War One drove Europe the brink of starvation and women were required to carry on farming alone, or with underage youth. Female farm workers were brought from Canada to farm in Great Britain and France to take up the slack.

Woman farmer, World War One.  Women from cities were trained to farm during World War One and World War Two, but no doubt the more common event was that they simply took over their husbands roles as their children picked up the slack for them.

"Freedom, Work, Bread!"  A German communist recruiting poster appeals to a German landser to turn his bayonet fixed rifle and hand grenade against the government.  Part of the appeal is scene by the depiction of work he doesn't have (farm and train in background) and to poor women working the fields alone.

Now, we know things were changing by the 1920s.  And we know things were changing before then. Perhaps we ought to stop and synthesize things a bit here before moving on. With all of the above in mind, what do we know?  Running up to, let's say, 1910, we know the following:
  • Farming was the dominant industry everywhere, and labor on farms was so heavy, no one person could do it themselves.
  • Domestic work was so heavy that no one person could do it themselves either.  Men at work had to reply at somebody at home just to live.
  • Addressing something we hadn't earlier, there was no public assistance for anything, so the byproduct of male female unions, putting it delicately, had to be the duty of those engaged in that activity.
This leaves us, whether people care to like it or not, with a world in which it's going to necessarily be the case that almost all office and industrial employment is male and all domestic work is female. This wasn't, contrary to what some later theorist would like to imagine, the result of inherent male prejudice, but rather because of the way of the world and the nature of work a the time.

Now, starting in the late 19th Century, things began to change. We've seen that. Women began to have a few occupational roles outside the home.  Nursing came in first, teaching second, seamstresses third, secretarial work fourth, and then by the mid 20th Century, many other occupations. Why was that, and why those roles.

Here too, we can see the hand of mechanization at work.

Mechanization really began to hit farming mid 19th Century, although we generally fail to appreciate that.  Prior to that, the number of mechanized implements in farming was quite small. But by the mid 19th Century engineers had turned their talents to farming machinery, and farming machines began to come in. They still required a vast amount of heavy labor to be used, but it wasn't quite as heavy as before.  A slight decrease in labor on the farm resulted, and it was slight.

Wealth also increased in society, and with wealth comes leisure.  Indeed, some have claimed that leisure is the true measure of the success of a society. At any rate, this opened up the door a bit for some women to take up careers, even if only briefly in their lives.  It was natural that the first careers that opened up were ones they were already associated with.

Nursing has been associated with women forever, and probably due to the fact that in the homes, women filled that role, with that sort of nursing equating really with being a type of physician.  They very rarely became physicians as that career wasn't open, as the education for it also wasn't open.  But that when nursing developed as a career in its own right, that women would enter it isn't too surprising.  Aiding in that, in Europe it had long been the case that nursing was associated with nuns, both Catholic and Protestant, and the word for nurse in many countries outside the US is in fact "Sister", taking that title from nuns.  Even in English, outside the US, nurses are commonly called "Sister" and their clothing for many years mimicked that of nuns.

 Nuns of the Battlefield Monument, Washington D.C.

This also raises a topic that's very much overlooked, in that an extremely long standing female career option was the religious life.  For women in the Christian world, if they were Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans or Anglicans, an option always existed to take religious vows. As has already been seen, women who had taken vows were also often in other roles, the most noted examples being educational and nursing roles.  In much of the Western world female religious (nuns) have decreased in numbers since the 1950s, so it's now easy to forget the role they once played, but in terms of the teaching and medical fields, they were pioneers having a very strong presence long before their secular compatriots occupied the same fields.

Teaching has a similar history.  Early on almost all school teachers were men, but most people were educated at home, and the person doing that teaching was almost always female.  Even in wealthy families that role was usually assigned to a female member of the household.  Theodore Roosevelt, for example, was primarily educated by an aunt.  Patton was educated at home by the female members of his household.  When women began to have the opportunity to work outside the home a bit, being a teacher was a natural role for an educated woman, although early on they were mostly assigned to grade school.  Prior to World War One it was already the case that women were becoming a force at the high school level, and also about that time the self segregation that society entered into in teaching whereby primary school teachers were almost always female had also set in.  This displaced, it should be noted, that role for men, where they had formerly been prominent (and not always too popular).

 Woman schoolteacher in early 20th Century, with pupils on field trip in Washington D. C.

Interestingly, the education of the young had not only been something that women had conducted at home for generations, but here to their role was anticipated by female religious, as nuns, together with monks had fulfilled this role for quite some time.

Nun escorting children to school.

A grimmer role was that of garment worker, or industrial seamstress.  Also leaning on a traditional role, when it remained common for wives to sew the clothing worn by their families, this work was grueling and dangerous.  It tended to be the domain of poor women, who had the skills to do it, but whom lacked the opportunity or education to do anything else.

Seamstress strike. These strikers might not actually be poorer garment workers, but perhaps a more skilled class of tailor.  They are certainly well dressed.

All of this is demonstrate, in a long roundabout fashion, that women had started to enter some pioneering female employment roles by the turn of the prior century.

At that point, mechanization, and wealth in society, began to change things at a more rapid pace. Agricultural mechanization started to increase.  Domestic machinery began to be introduced.  And societal wealth increased to the point where the hiring out of some domestic chores began to occur.  None of this was rapid, but by the end of World War One, it was relatively well established.  Women accordingly were freed from some of the labor that they'd previously been required for, and their presence in the workplace increased. They also began to attend colleges and universities in much greater numbers.

Western College for Women University, 1904.

This takes us to about 1920 or so, at which point women really began to move into the workplace, albeit in roles where they already had a toehold.  In the 1920s, 30s and 40s, things would really take off, setting the stage for what would happen in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. but that isn't all that occurred that would impact women in society long-term, the hard objectification of women also began in earnest.  This is a party of the story that has also been widely misconstrued.

An automobile calendar for the year 1908.  Note how the woman in this calendar is portrayed, just on the cusp of widespread photography and movie film.  A stark contrast to later portrayals.

The portrayal of women as objects has a long history, but modern mechanization really boosted it beyond any measure ever previously seen, and it also gave the means to do it in a mass distribution method that had never previously been encountered. As this directly impacts women at work, it's part of the story.

Photography, most particularly  the moving image, took the image to a new level that it had never before existed in.  No longer slow, and capable of portraying motion, movies and high quality black and white film really burst forward in the decade following World War One.  Nearly entirely unrestricted in any fashion, it also gave the means to distribute images of women in an alluring state, and the means to do so was very rapidly exploited.  The 1920s proved to be a decade in which women were portrayed in this fashion to an extent only recently rivaled, and unfortunately now surpassed.  In the 1920s this received push-back, and while the movie production codes and the like were now ridiculed, it did put the brake on the depictions of women in a purely objectified form, although not before the genie was out of the bottle.  At the very point, therefore, at which women were entering the general male workplace, their objectification as objects had begun. This stands on its head the later notions of Victorian naivete, and instead gives rise to the rather unseemly nature of the dual view of women in Western society that has existed ever since, and which has never been overcome.  The situation which, in a few short years, would give rise to one portrayal in war production posters, and quite another on war machines, and a short while later in glossy magazines, and then ultimately sporting magazines and advertising.

b.  The mid 20th Century until today

 Depression era employment poster seeking (apparently cheerful) female domestics.

From the 1920s until the early 1960s is pretty much a rising slope, in terms of women employment.  It was a steady rise, tied closely to the rise of domestic machinery, as we've already explored.  At no point was it really a dramatic spike, as so often claimed in regards to World War Two, and at no point was there a dramatic decline, as sometimes claimed about the 1950s.  It simply increased, spurred on or depressed by economic conditions or war, but never arrested not never diverted, just as the progress of domestic machinery, along with other machinery, improved.  Today (and I'm obviously taking huge leaps in time and omitting a great deal here) there are few jobs that women cannot pursue, and few careers that they cannot entertain. So, after over a century of transition, everything should be rosy, right?

Well, certainly not uniformly.

c.  Having to work

Articles celebrating the "progress" of women in the workplace, which would be better addressed toward transition in their work roles combined with some progress, generally tend to note what other articles addressing economic distress do, that being that many women must work, and much of that work isn't of a "fulfilling career" variety, even taking into account that the "fulfilling career" comments themselves are much overdone.

Truth be known, even going back a century many women "had" to work, especially if we take into account the high percentage of women who lived on farms. All farm women worked, and by necessity. They weren't the only women working by necessity even then, however.  Certainly every seamstress employed in a garment factory was there by necessity.  But over time one of the grim realities of the progress of women in work is that many women now work by necessity, rather than by election.  This doesn't mean that they've gone from no labor to labor, by compulsion, but rather that they've gone from heavy domestic labor to business labor typically combined with retained domestic labor. And, as we'll note below, the fortunes of the middle class have somewhat in recent years, they've picked up a bigger share of the family labor burden, whether they wished to or not.

And due to societal changes, a certain percentage of women find themselves bearing 100% of a family budget.  The phenomenon of the "single mother" is actually no more common now than it was in the 19th Century, but the reasons are completely different, and the economic impact accordingly quite different.  In the 19th Century the condition of being a single mother tended to be due to industrial and farming accidents which could result in at least some outside effort to provide assistance to the mother left behind, or in the case of farm wives, left them with at least a share of their husband's farm (if he solely owned it) by operation of law.  So, while things were grim for them, they tended to be not quite so long term desperate as typically today.  The situation of the father simply being absent was quite rare, and scandalous. 

By and large, no doubt, women are now left with greater employment options than ever before.  They are also left with greater economic burdens and expectations. And because their options are nearly as great as mien's, they share in the actual nature of the male employment reality, there no longer being a male and female one. So let's take a look at that.

 Depression era poster urging girls to consider career options, with those careers being seamstress, secretary, teacher and something else I'm not sure of.

 Depression era poster urging you men to consider their career options, an early example of something that's become part of education generally today.

The evolution of the workplace for men.

Great Depression era WPA poster.  Frankly, this Depression Era poster is sort of scary in a nearly Nazi like way.

"Man may work from sun to sun but woman's work is never done."  

That old proverb is no doubt heard less now, but while it went to praise the work of women, it was pretty true of male work for most of the pre World War One era. As Henry Fairlie described in his classic essay, The Cow's Revenge, most men worked at least six days a week, and pretty much ten hours a day, if they had jobs in town. And for most people, that was pretty heavy labor.  People educated enough to work in offices were pretty fortunate in that urban setting, which probably gave rise to the comment you'll hear even today of "at least you're indoors" from people who are also working indoors.  Most work in the 19th Century was very physical, to say the least, and working conditions were grueling.  As part of that, the typical calculation of risks was much different than it is today, and the acceptance of industrial accidents was much greater.

 Poster urging employers to hire the returning veterans of World War One.

Of course, a very high percentage of men prior to World War One (and after) worked on farms and the opportunity to own a farm was much higher than it is today.  Indeed, the chance of ultimately owning your own business of any kind was much higher than today.  That's what got us rolling, really, on the thread about the Somme, as Newfies by and large had outdoor employment at that time, although it was focused on the fishing industry.

 Depression Era Farm Resettlement Administration poster. The FRA sought to resettle farmers who had lost their lands during the Depression on new lands, but the program was not widely subscribed to and not greatly successful.

While the rural population began to decline as a percentage of the population, it still remained surprisingly large well into the 1950s.  It was at that time that the impact of mechanization really began to take hold in farming and ranching, with there being a revolution in machinery and transportation, in part because of the impacts of the war.  The peak year in farm income in the United States was actually 1919, and more homesteads were filed during the teens than in any other decade, in part because of the Great War.  This was followed, of course, by a disastrous farm depression following the war, but it was really the onset of mechanization in the full form, fueled in part by the advances in machinery brought about by World War Two, that caused the last of the horse powered machinery to basically go out in the 1950s, to be followed by a decline in small machinery in the decades thereafter.

At the same time, the United States came out of World War Two as the only intact industrial nation in the world.  This greatly eased this transition as many well paying industrial jobs were available in the United States and for the first time many Americans went to college and universities who would not have been able to otherwise. Entire demographics, such as Catholics, started going to university. A university degree had such value that any university degree translated into a well paying job depending upon where a person located themselves.  The professions retained and indeed gained a status such as they'd never had before.  The onset of full scale unification of retail markets had not really started so it still remained the case that small shopkeepers could and did do well. This situation went on up until the 1970s, at which time economic forces ground the country to a halt.  By the time the economy started emerging for the doldrums of the 1970s, the economy had begun to greatly change.

Starting in the 1970s, manufacturing jobs in the United States began to decline in number and in quality in a way that the country had never experienced.  Having really started to emerge as an industrial nation after the Civil War, the US was a latecomer to the industrial revolution and saw the beneficial, as well as the destructive, aspects of industrialization last well into the 1960s.  In the 70s, heavy industry began to shift overseas where nations had never experienced it, or which had their industry destroyed during World War Two, began to emerge and new industrial forces.  The decline has never ceased and industry in the US is a mere shadow of its former self, with its former well paying blue collar jobs a thing of memory only for the most part.  This occurred, moreover, just as women began to enter the workplace in massive numbers.

The resulting new economy was a "service economy", driven by the needs of urban consumers.  Entire classes of retail businesses disappeared as the emphasis developed on economies of scale.  Computerization brought in an entire new industry, but in some ways it accelerated the process.  In the mean time, economies of scale also played themselves out in the farming industry, while an increase in surplus wealth in the upper sectors of the economy became a factor in the ranching industry.  During the depressed 1970s, and even into the 1980s, it remained possible for a person with financing to purchase a working ranch in the United States. By the 1990s that had started to die and by the late 1990s that had died.  It then followed with farming. For the first time in the nations history buying a working quantity of agricultural land became an impossibility, a radical shift on the nation's nature which the nations has refused to acknowledge.


Added to this, starting at some point in the 1970s, and probably due to the increasing number of college graduates being in the workforce, we entered the Age of Certification, which we are full in now.

As you'll recall from earlier in this lengthy post, it was once the case that a college degree, any college degree, was the ticket to a while collar career.  It was quite common for a college graduate with a degree in darned near anything to walk through the door of a company and obtain employment in a managerial role, irrespective of what his degree was in.

There were occupations, of course, which required specific educations.  Engineering, for example, always did.  Indeed, the lack of trained engineers in the US gave rise to West Point, as the military lacked a sufficient pool of trained engineers to draw from.   Generally individuals in scientific fields had the appropriate degrees. And of course physicians, dentists and veterinarians did.  By the post war period, lawyers almost all did (the actual requirement for a degree didn't come until surprisingly late).  It's interesting to note, however, that very few of these pursuits, with the medical and legal ones providing the notable exceptions, required a degree beyond a bachelors degree.

By the 1980s, this had really started to dramatically change. With college attendance having gone in the 1970s from a hope to nearly an expectation, the number of individuals with degrees dramatically increased.  In the sciences it became the case that the entry level degree for employment went from the bachelors degree to the masters degree.  Masters In Business Administration became very common for those with a serious desire to pursue a business degree.

Beyond that, many occupations that had never required any degrees started to, or otherwise required certification. Some of this was simply due to the march of technology, which now required special training.  By the time of this writing certification has become very widespread.

For example, policemen and fireman now typically have degrees and are certified. The average policeman has at least a community college degree and has been through a law enforcement academy.  Only a couple of decades ago many were able to enter police forces by virtue of having been veterans of military service, which is now no longer the case.  One highway patrolman in Wyoming actually has a law degree, something that was previously only common in law enforcement with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Firemen typically have associates degrees and are certified in their field.  Even many blue collar degrees require certificates.  To find that somebody is "OSHA Certified", or something of the type, is not uncommon at all.  Certifications have even spread into many recreational endeavors.

While the increase in education that certification reflects is not a bad thing by any means, a byproduct of it is that skills are generally not terribly transferable in the modern world, or at least not perceived to be.  When looking back on the lives of men in prior eras, it's not uncommon at all to find men switching back and forth between widely varying careers.  You'll often find that somebody worked as a sheriff's deputy, then went to work in a business, then went on to something else.  Examples of firemen becoming policemen and vice versa are not uncommon.  And what has particularly changed is that the hiring of high school graduates, or even non high school graduates, for what are now white collar jobs is nearly non existent.

As an example of the latter, some time ago I listed to a podcast in which the author of a book detailed an interview with a World War One veteran. The veteran related that just before the US entered the Great War, he had graduated from high school.  Somebody had told him about an insurance agency in a neighboring town needing an office worker, so he went there and obtained the job.  Save for his period of service, he'd stayed with the insurance company his entire life and had risen up to a fairly high local position in it.  He'd never gone to university, and he'd never seen the need to. Today, that couldn't happen.

Or, for some personal examples, my great grandfather on my mother's side started working as a boy for a large insurance company in Canada.  He stayed with it, his talents were appreciated, and he rose up to be the head of the Canadian branch of the company.  My grandfather on my father's side started working for packing houses when just a teenager, and was moved to the office where he rose up in the management of one such company, until he opened his own.  In both of these examples, this just could not happen today.  Indeed, given the ages both of these men commenced work (13 years in my grandfather's case), their entry into employment might even have been illegal by today's standards.

So where does that place us today?

 Depression era WPA poster urging worker safety.

The initial question, raised in regards to the posting regarding the Newfoundland troops who served at the Somme, was:
The symbolic change has been farms (usually not far from urban areas) that partially depend on tourism, kids having their pictures taken with the farm animals, and so on. Hay rides, etc . At the other extreme, you have enormous enterprises growing corn or wheat for the “agribusinesses.” I am not either for or against either of these particularly (you can easily see the political fault lines here). Do we just live in an unfortunate period of history?
The answer to that of course depends very much on your prospective and position. We live in a period, without doubt, where  the impact of poverty in the Western world has been so greatly reduced that even the American poor would not generally be regarded as such in most of the world.  Indeed, Europe and North American are so wealthy that it gives a person pause to consider the injunction that "it's easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven".  We can hardly grasp the poverty of other regions of the world, but then it is also the case that we can hardly appreciate the extent to which some of those regions are rocketing into prosperity  For the first time in its history, for example, the majority of Mexican citizens are middle class, and in spite of our fears to the contrary, immigration from Mexico into the United States has basically ceased, and even possibly reversed, with more people coming south over the border than going north.

But at the same time the profusion of university degrees has resulted in a huge number of Americans being able to only enter basic white collar jobs even though they have an education.  Jobs that in 1919 went to men who had high school degrees only now require two year and even four year degrees.  Individuals with college degrees in fields without directly application to a business need, or sometimes even with directly application, sometimes must enter jobs that are at the basic entry level and be content with them.  The classic "degreed barrista" at Starbucks isn't really a joke.  In the professions, consolidation has started to come in, in some quarters, and an oversupply of once safe jobs has lead to a decline in employment combined with a return to their historical, pre World War Two status, as solidly middle class, rather than upper middle class, occupations..  That is most pronounced right now in the law, which was a vehicle for lower middle class Americans to enter the upper class for much of the nation's history, but which sees a fair amount of unemployment in the ranks now.  Those who do obtain employment without full four year degree often find themselves in a certification cycle that ultimately determines a career path for them with some permanence, or at least potentially so.

Making matters worse, the big box cubicle environment of much of American urban work has lead to a dissatisfaction rate with employment in the US which is well up over 50%.  As American employers have become more and more remote from their employees, the employees, it seems, who have less and less of a chance of owning anything of their own, care less and less for their work.  Hopes of starting up their own enterprises, still portrayed as an American Dream, are increasingly in the nature of pipe dreams, and in some sectors, such as agriculture, they approach the level of fantasy.  Former rural occupations have dried up in the face of the inability to buy into them, mechanization and the outright disappearance of many such jobs.  Men and women who dream of owning their own farms, fishing boats or appliance stores probably have to be content with that forever being a dream.

Enter back into this picture the plight of women again.  Throughout the 70s and 90s it was still common to hear the feminist rhetoric about "fulfilling careers", something that was also said to young men but with little actual enthusiasm for the most part except by starry eyed boosters on any one career sector.  Now women have largely come into the same situation as men, in which competition for career spaces is a fact of life, and the fulfillment aspect of that having little to do with reality.  For women without an education, and particularly for those with children but no spouse, the burdens faced in life are substantial.

Oddly, that this has occured seems to be poorly understood in the economy at large, or even somewhat denied.  Occasionally, it's explained away as a good thing, on purely economic terms.  Part of the problem here is that the voice of any one occupational field tends to be dominated by its oldest members, who often have very little connection with things at the entry level.  Taking law, for example, the depth to which institutional changes are being forced upon the field has been slow to be grasped, even as a crisis in certain sections of the field set in.  The voice of the law is probably on average much older than in most industries, so those who claim to speak for the profession often came up in it decades and decades ago, in a completely different environment.  So we've seen law schools continue to churn out new graduates who are lured with promises of lucrative careers and with a degree that "can be used for a lot of things" when the reality of that passed long ago.  In other areas, I've recently seen it claimed by a happy economist that the destruction of rural occupations is a good thing, really, as the displaced workers have been more overall productive in the urban cubicle jobs that some (but certainly not all) have obtained, which may be true in terms of pure efficiency, but which apparently isn't sufficiently appreciated by workers as to change their views towards their individual occupations.  The dominance of large retail outlets in that sector is commonly asserted to be a good thing even though its quite obvious that it has virtually eliminated the small "mom and pop" shop that once existed in nearly ever sector of the retail economy. That prices are lower for consumers is obvious, but that those same consumers now have no hope of every owning a retail outlet of their own is seemingly less appreciated.

On the other hand, working conditions are much better in every manual occupation than they used to be.  We don't have very many Hanna Mine disasters anymore, for example.  And we don't have hundreds of poor women jammed into urban warehouses with poor ventilation sewing close for starvation wages either.  And by and large, while the poor remain with us, we don't have nearly as much desperate starvation level poverty as existed in prior eras.

Some of this is, of course, a pretty grim conclusion, if taken too far, and depending upon your view.  If you dream of owning your own fishing boat, or owning your own farm, or owning your own radio store, things are probably not terribly rosy.  If you are a woman, and entered any one field hoping that field would be "fulfilling", depending upon how suited you were for it naturally, you may have found that the occuaption amounts to work, and by and large it may in fact be the case that leisure, rather that labor, is the basis of an intellectual and fulling society.  But perhaps it need not be as grim as it might seem.  Industrial and farming accidents, dictatorial labor bosses, left vs right strikes, and the like, are all things mostly of the past now.  If work is not as fulfilling as people once hoped for, the old work probably wasn't either.  But at the same time it is distressing that Americans have fewer and fewer personal options, and for many their work-lives will necessarily involve working for remotes bosses they care little about and who care little directly for them.  This can be addressed, of course, but it's doubt that people can conceive of doing that now.  Having benefited so directly from the type of corporate capitalism Americans essentially pioneered, doing anything else brings up claims of "Socialism", that being the system which we so clearly ran into the ground, and which was so clearly unworkable.  But perhaps a little Distributism, that system advocating the principal of Subsidiarity, might be in order.  That "third way", championed by Chesterton and Belloc  during the mid 20th Century, advanced the thesis of an economy geared towards the individual family, a goal everyone claims to always support but which very rarely actually is.

They were hunters or fishermen

Another trailing thread, this one notes individuals who were in that particularly attune to nature class, hunters and fishermen.

This is a topic, of course, which could be extremely broad, as most rural people have, in the past (and still do today) hunt and/or fish a bit.  This one will try to list those individuals who were notable in doing so.


 Saint Andrew

The apostle Andrew was a fisherman.  In the modern context, he would have been considered a commercial fisherman today, as this was his occupation.  He and his brother Peter were, of course, recruited to Christ by the words that they wold "become fishers of men."

Category:  Cleric


John James Audubon

Audubon is famous as a naturalist, of course, but he was also a prodigious hunter.  He in fact obtained his specimens in that manner.

Category:  Scientist.


The Cossacks

The Cossack culture traditionally featured hunting and fishing as part of that culture.
Category:  Culture

Date Added:  July 20, 2014.


George Crook

Long serving Gen. George Crook was an avid hunter and fisherman.  It's been noted that his expedition in the summer of 1876 seemed to resemble a prolonged hunting and fishing expedition in the Big Horns after his force fought the Battle of the Rosebud.

Category:  Soldier.

Date Added:  July 20, 2014.

Saint Eustace

Eustace was a Roman General, known at that time as Placidus, who converted to Christianity when he saw a vision of crucifix between the horns of a deer while hunting.  His conversion resulted in his persecution and ultimately his martyrdom. 

Category:  Soldier, Matyr.  


Clemens August Graf von Galen


Clemens August Graf von Galen was a German Roman Catholic Priest who rose to be a Cardinal.  He's a famous figure for his issuance of a sermon known as the White Rose Sermon, which was one of a series of Anti Nazi sermons which earned him the nickname The Lion of Munster.  He was a Bishop at the time.  His sermons were so stern in regards to the Nazis that Hitler proposed having him removed but this was not done as it was feared that this would cause the loss of any support to the government in Westphalia, where he was located.  One Nazi party official wanted to have him executed.

He was also a German count by birth, and like most members of that class he was a hunter. The photograph of him above was taken in 1899, prior to his ordination in 1904.

Von Galen was notoriously spartan with himself, giving up almost all of the comforts of life, save for smoking pipes.  Given that, I don't know if he hunted after his ordination.

Category:  Cleric.  Revolutionary.


Ernest Hemingway

Author Ernest Hemingway was both an avid hunter and fisherman.

Category:  Writer

Date Added:  July 20, 2014


Mariel Hemingway

Like her grandfather, Mariel Hemingway is also a sportsman.

Category:  Actress

Date Added:  July 20, 2014


Edward Ringwood Hewitt

 Hewitt and spouse at a Woman's Emergency Service Corps Camp just prior to World War One.

Probably mostly forgotten today, Hewitt was an inventive genius in the early 20th Century, in an era when there were some very notable inventive geniuses afoot in the country.  He was also an accomplished fly fisherman, or in the language of the day a "sport fisherman", and wrote a book on the topic which was noteworthy at the time.

Category:  Chemist, Inventor


Saint Hubert

St. Hubert was a French nobleman and the heir apparent to the seat of the Aquitane.  In his youth he was  a dedicated hunter, taking an interest in hunting above all other activities, particularly after his wife died in childbirth. While hunting on Good Friday at some point in the late 600s he received a vision and thereafter became a clergyman and ultimately a Bishop.  He is one of several saints who are associated with having seen crosses between the horns of deer, while hunting.  He is the Patron Saint of Hunters.

St. Hubert is sort of recalled in an odd fashion in the modern world, through the label on the bottle of the liquor Jaegermeister.   Jaegermeister is a German alcoholic drink whose founder, Curt Mast, was a hunter.  He named the drink after the position of the Master Hunter, which is an official in charge of the hunt in German law. The depiction on the bottle shows the Jaegermeister's badge, which recalls St. Hubert.

Category:  Cleric


John Huston

Legendary film director John Huston was a hunter.  He was so distracted in that pursuit while in Africa filming The African Queen that this later became the subject of its own movie.

Category:  Film Director, Actor.

Date Added:  July 20, 2014


Curt Mast

Distiller Curt Mast created the alcoholic drink known as Jaegermeister and named it after the position of the Master of the Hunt.

Category:  Businessman


 Saint Peter

Peter, like his brother Andrew, occupied the profession of fisherman.  The "first" of the Apostles, like Andrew he was brought to Christ with the words that he would become "fishers of men."  St. Peter is the patron saint of fishermen.

Category:  Cleric


Kermit Roosevelt

Like his father, Kermit Roosevelt was a hunter and adventurer, and co-authored a book on a sheep hunting expedition he took with his brother Theodore to Asia sheep hunting.

Category:  Soldier, businessman.

July 20, 2014


Theodore Roosevelt

 Theodore Roosevelt, far left, hunting in Colorado.

As is well known, Theodore Roosevelt was an accomplished hunter and hunted all over North American and even, after his presidency, in Africa.

Category:  Politician, Soldier, Writer



Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

Like his father, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr was also an adventurer and hunter, having traveled as far as Asia with his brother Kermit sheep hunting.

Category:  Politician, soldier, businessman

Date Added:  July 20, 2014


Land Values and American Agriculture

Recently I happened to be out in the sticks doing some livestock type stuff when the person I was with, who does livestock type stuff full time, asked me what I thought of a recent place I know relatively well having sold.  I didn't know it had sold, which shows how I'm both out of it, and how local news really is.

 Nebraska homesteaders. These homesteaders were likely doing well, as they had a couple of horses, some sort of implement a wagon and a band of sheep.

Indeed, not only had the place sold, it had sold for a very high price.  Now, the interesting part of this is that it sold for a middle high six digit figure to the family that just sold it, when they purchased it about 30 years ago. The current sales price was over 10 times higher than that old one.

Now, on that, I'll first observe, and I think it important, that 30 years ago a lot of agricultural land, including Western agricultural land, was at a depressed price due to an economic slump that the country had entered combined with some insurance companies having invested heavily, at that time, in agricultural land.  This combination caused a lot of land to go on the market at a depressed price, for one reason or another. So, those mid 1980s values may not have been realistic or reflective of true worth at the time.  They undoubtedly were not, so the price was probably deflated by 1/3d at that time, meaning that the true long term value was higher, and the recent price in actual dollars was probably more like nine times higher than the mid 1980s price.

And while the 1980s weren't a period of hyper inflation like the early 1970s were, the fact of the matter remains that we still continue to experience inflation and that means nearly any time we look at a figure we find in the past, we  have to take that into account. And it turns out that a 1980 dollar wold be worth about $2.00 in current money, so realistically the rise in price of this parcel of land is really probably a factor of about seven.

Still, something increasing in value by a factor of seven isn't insignificant. What's up?

Well one thing that's up is that the agricultural land that's being sold right now in the West is clearly not being sold at a price reflective of its production value.  A realtor I spoke to told me that its been the case for a very long time that ranches generally only generate 1% to 2% of a return annually, although I'm not sure what the 1% to 2% is based on (I should have asked).  I.e., 1% of what?  With the current high prices, I'd be surprised if they generated that much on a return in investment.  But what is obvious is that a lot of ranch land is currently priced at a level that is aimed at the very wealthy, who only wish to own a lot of land, or at people who have perhaps come into a lot of land and need to invest it.  If you had, for example, $10,000,000 from selling your oil sodden farm in North Dakota, putting it into a $8,000,000 ranch in Wyoming might make sense, as a economic endeavor.  It doesn't make sense if you made $10,000,000 from your widget business in New Jersey, but you might wish to purchase a lot of land as it's an attractive idea if you are in New Jersey (I'll note that I don't know anything about New Jersey, I'm sure parts of New Jersey are very nifty, so I'm not taking shots at New Jersey).

 Nebraska homestead with rather odd windmill.

Or maybe there are all sorts of factors I don't appreciate, as I don't have $10,000,000 to spend on anything, and probably don't grasp the concerns that people with that sort of cash have.  What I can say, however, is that there are people who buy ranch land in the west for emotional and psychological reasons, rather than economically practical ones, and that most land right now is priced at a level that, if its an actual unit, only the very wealthy can afford it.

This is an interesting, and perhaps disturbing, trend.

There is only so much land on earth and not all of that land is suitable for agriculture by any means.  Having started off with so much of it in the US, mentally we're used to the idea that there's land for everyone, including farm land if people want it. That was probably also never really true, but it was truer here than elsewhere.
 Nebraska homestead, probably a stock raising outfit.

The originating nature of American agriculture is found in Europe, and the story is ancient.  At one time, small homesteaders, in the loose use of that term, farmed tiny plots. But even as early as the later stages of the Roman Empire, the central government claimed a right to doll out parcels of land.  When Rome fell, land occupation at first went back to that rude sort of homesteading.  And that continued for some time. Even the Vikings were more farmers than raiders, violent homesteaders if you will.  But in the early Medieval period the families that had started off as little more than strongmen became the sovereigns, and were regarded as owning everything in their countries.  In Shakespeare, when a character refers to Henry V as England, it makes sense. Henry V, like every other sovereign, wasn't only the king of his country, in a land ownership sense, he was the country.

 The ruined Abby at Abbotsbury, England.  Picturesque, but it depicts a bleak history.  The Abbey was closed by Henry VIII sacking of the monasteries and the land in England was largely owned by wealthy large land owners up until after World War One, which a change in inheritance eliminated primogeniture and the tax structure changed, causing a rise in the fortunes of individual farmers for the first time in generations.

Kings dolled out land to lessor nobles who rented it to tenants, and that situation, very much developed, is the one that most of our European ancestors fled from.  Farming as a tenant isn't so much fun, in a worrying about how your crop is doing sort of sense.  Owning your own land, and being a "yeoman", is much preferable.  And as England and France (unlike Spain) allowed colonist to do that, in the New World, the inducement to emigrate was a strong basic one.  People like to imagine that all their immigrants were brave souls fleeing oppression, but a lot of them were just desperate farmers fleeing a life of rent.

Land in North America was always cheap, and prior to the Civil Ware there were always ways to acquire it nearly free of cost, with some states granting state homesteads or land grants. Sometimes the grants were tied to military service in a war, much like Roman land grants had been.  One state actually held a lottery for land.  But during the American Civil War the government passed the Homestead Act to encourage the populating of the American West.

Settlement of the west was already occurring.  Americans had been going to Texas (and receiving Mexican grants) since before Texas' Independence, which probably was a source of lasting regret to Mexico, and Americans began to flood into California starting in 1849.  The fact that the US would even think of doing a semi bizarre wartime act of encouraging the working age population to move beyond the draft really says something about the power of the northern states in comparison to the southern ones.  Who does something like during war time?  "Hey John, be prepared to go into the Army. . . or think about moving to Oregon. . . "  Weird.

Anyhow, that the entire process took to the US to a new level in all sorts of ways including that the Federal government now actually dolled the property out for free, to some extent, to those who simply worked it.  And they could buy more at a very low price.

 19th Century Nebraska Homesteaders.  Apparently this family thought sufficiently well of their cow to allow it to graze on their sod roof. 

Now, a couple of corrections are in order here about the story of homesteading.  In the popular imagination, some hardy homesteaders moved to the frontier, and put in a farm.  That sort of skips a step.  In actuality, homesteading was pretty hard.  It probably seems easier in our collective imaginations as most Americans at that time came from an agrarian background and they didn't have to be taught how to farm, usually.  And if they did, their homestead was likely doomed.  And in actuality a homestead required a pretty significant investment.  Storing up stuff for years in order to be able to do it was not common.  Even in the photo above we can see that the homesteading family has at least two mules, some sort of implement, and a cow.  No doubt they had more than that, but at a time when resources were thin, purchasing anything was pricey.  Keep in mind that this group apparently had six people to feed and clothe in addition.  

Most homesteads failed and contrary to the common belief there was a lot more 20th Century homesteading than 19th Century homesteading. Most 20th Century homesteads failed.  You can see photos of some failed homestead here, if you like, together with ones that didn't fail.  The whole process really didn't end until the 1950s, when the last of the homestead entries made before the expiration year of 1932 were finally proved up, save for a small number that were taken out in a special post World  War Two program.  And throughout the homestead period, but particularly later in the 20th Century, it was pretty common for farm and ranch families to dream of a better, easier life, they imagined existed in town.  Indeed, the irony of romantically looking back on homesteading is that homesteaders romantically looked forward to a non farm future for their descendants, in quite a few instances.

But it was still the case, in spite of the extremely difficult work and the very high chance of failure, it was still possible to acquire land that way for a person of modest means.  In order to succeed, including succeed out here in the arid livestock raising West, years had to typically go into the preparation to take out a homestead, contrary to the common view, but it could still be done.  A young man might, for example, work for a decade as a cowboy, acquire a small herd of his own, and then homestead.  Or a family might scrape enough together to give it a go.  As one of my old friends told me about the Homestead Act which his Russian immigrant grandparents had taken advantage of, "It was a good deal for poor people." 

Now, that same land is being sold in a lot of places for extremely high prices that certainly people of modest means, or even though quite well off but not extremely well off, can afford. 

Cheap land was an enduring feature of American history from day one, and in truth has a lot more to do with the success of the American nation (and Canadian one) than any concept of "American Exceptionalism" does.  The country became a big success because:  1) we had a lot of cheap land, and 2) we let people acquire it.  This isn't true of every country that has had a lot of land, but for those that did, and followed that recipe, they were guaranteed to be a success.  Australia and Canada provide other good examples.  I wonder what the meaning of the current situation is to us now?

It isn't as if this is exactly a new situation, but it is one that seemingly hasn't sunk in to people yet.  It's still a common bad drama scenario to have some guy tired of the stress of a big city go out and buy a farm or ranch.  One episode of the nighttime soap opera "Army Wives", for example, featured a series of plots in which a Specialist E4 is going to leave the Army and buy a ranch in Wyoming. Seriously?  On E4 pay you'd be lucky to afford a Lego Ranch.  But that idea, now matter how absurd, remains a common one.

And a bit of a heart breaking one for some.  I've been in groups of young men some 20 years my junior where they are working part time on ranches, or full time, and they speak of buying a ranch of their own some day, the same way that cowboys of 1890 could and actually did. They're not going to be able to, ever.  They probably know that, but dream otherwise.  At least a couple of the individuals I've heard express that sort of hope were working cowboys, who have to know that they can't possibly afford their own place at any point in the future.

This is a remarkable change in the history of the American nation, and maybe not a very good one.  If the foundational aspect of this country was the ability to go out and get your own land, and make a place for yourself, and if that is now dead, and it nearly is, what does it mean for the future of the country?

Now, some economist (and "futurist") would cheerfully (seriously) say that in the modern economy, agricultural production is an antiquated primitive means of generating wealth, and we should be happy as the new "homesteads" if you will, can be staked in the big city urban economy.  Can't start a ranch, well that's because society needs you to start a DotCom.

That's sort of a worrisome view to those inclined to worry, like men, however.  Another observed trend (but maybe not a new one) is that a majority of Americans do not like their work.  Now, chances are high that statisticians didn't take that figure in earlier times.  Did a majority of cigar makers in a cigar factory with no ventilation like their work?  I doubt it. What about a majority of coal miners in places like Hanna Wyoming where the mines collapsed and killed hundreds every now and then?  I doubt that too.

  Memorial to the Dead of the Number One Mine, in Hanna Wyoming.  Mine collapse killed over 200 miners in the first decade of the 20th Century at this location.  From Some Gave All.

Still, there's something about this that's distressing.

And indeed, its been distressing enough that in other countries it's been legislatively addressed.  In some European countries the transfer of farm land is pretty strictly limited to transfers to those who would farm.  Here in the US, an attempt to address can be found in various Young Farmers Programs that seek to provide funding, at a grossly inadequate level, to beginning farmers.  The US example, however, hasn't kept pace with the economic realities and, in addition, the government has worked at cross purposes with the Rural Home Administration also acting as a vehicle to fund the subdividing of land. 

Maybe there's no solution to this at all, and this reflects what happens when a country has over 300,000,000 people in it.  But it's a pretty significant change in the country that will impact its nature at some point.  Americans have tended to look at themselves as a hardy frontier people, but they're really a urban one and are closing the door to their rural past in real ways.  Part of that includes closing the door on people who would live as farmers if they could, thereby choosing a life of service for those people, or an urban life preferred by those who study numbers.

But wait!  Is this really a farm story, or a story that just happens to have been written about farmers.  In other words is the story broader than this. 

What if you wanted to open a grocery store?

 Neighborhood grocery store in Altoona Pennsylvania, 1930s.

When I was a kid, this town had several small locally owned grocery stores.  I can recall the Grant Street Grocery, Elk Street Grocery, Brattis' and two whose names I can't recall, one on Ash Street and another in North Casper.  Added to that were several small markets (whose names I also can't recall) that were sort of on the convenience store model, and not real grocery stores.  Of all of those, one survives, and it survives by being a specialty market to some extent. Brattis', which always had a really good meat department, survives as a butcher's shop, or meat market.

Or what if you wanted to open an appliance store, sporting goods store or an audio equipment store?

 Hardware store in former bank building, 1970s.

Now, of course, all these types of stores still exist, to be sure, and there are locally owned ones everywhere, but there's no denying that locally owned stores selling many types of items are much rarer than they used to be, and they face economic pressures from large retail chains everywhere.  This is, in fact, an increasing, not a decreasing trend.

Now, this is distinctly different from the story of agricultural land, for the most part, presented above, but it is interesting that overall in our economy, it's just tougher for individuals to own a business of any kind, of their own. Even in the classic professions there's been at least local consolidation and the individual shop is less common.  It's an interesting trend, and it shows no signs of abating.  The question would be whether that is something that truly benefits the individual, the collective whole, or either?

At any rate, the change overall has been monumental, and in agriculture it's becoming fundamental.  The long term meaning of it is unknown.  Maybe there really isn't one, in a country that shifted over from having a very significant rural population up to the mid 20th Century but which no longer does, or maybe it means a rethinking, at some point, as to what it means to be an American, where party of the foundational myth of the country is no longer realistic for most people.  Of course, many other nations have similarly now unrealistic foundational myths, but keep them.  Most Australians, for example, aren't hardy residents of the Outback.  Most Arabs aren't Bedouins.  

At any rate, in the context of this blog, here's a change from a century ago that is seemingly unacknowledged by the general public, but which certainly is huge in real terms.  I'm used to people telling me "I grew up on a ranch" or "I grew up on a farm".  In the future, that won't be heard all that much, at least if present trends continue.


I recently read two articles that reminded me of this recent post.

The first one was in the magazine Super Lawyers (I'm not too sure what I think of that title) which featured a short article on a Cheyenne lawyer I know a bit (not much).  I did know that his family had a ranch and that one of his older brothers ranched it.

The article was interesting in that it told an age old tale.  Turns out the lawyer found that there was no place on the ranch for him, as his two older brothers and their families were already on it.  That's not really something new, this lawyer related that he's now 68 years old.  Still it shows the general impossibility for a common person to enter this field.  He came from a ranching background, had an agricultural degree, but there was no place for him to go. So he went on to the law instead.

The second article was in the  Casper Star Tribune today, and had a headline about young ranchers now entering the profession at an increased rate, locally. The increasing age of farmers and ranchers is constantly noted in the press, and the headline would give the impression that young people were successfully taking this up as a career from outside the profession.

Well, the headline was misleading. Rather, the article was about the children of ranchers becoming ranchers, something that's hardly news.  Again, it's illustrative of the points developed above.