Edison had just invented the electric light (although the streets of
Paris had been lit by electric carbon arc lights for some time). Electrical
power systems did not exist. Electric lights were so rare that in 1885
the folks of Austin, Texas, put up a string of electric street lights
specifically for a celebration. There were no electric motors or appliances.
Electricity did not reach the area for another 60 years or so.
New Orleans had had a commercial ice making plant for about 15 years,
but ice was not readily available out in the country. Most rural people
stored milk and butter in cold spring water, if they had access to
a spring or they just drank the milk warm. There was a thriving natural
ice distribution system in the northern states which delivered ice
by clipper ship all along the Atlantic coast. There was a commercial
ice cream plant at an ice cream parlor in Austin, Texas, in the 1880's
and the owner used the steam powered refrigeration system to cool
Wood was used for cooking and heating. Wood was readily available for
the labor. Some may have used coal. Many older homes used fireplaces,
but others used cast iron cook stoves and heaters.
Since there was no electricity, there were no electric lights. However,
there was plenty of kerosene from the Pennsylvania oil boom of recent
years. President Lincoln had studied by candlelight, these youngsters
studied with the faint aroma of 'coal oil.'
Entertainment was totally different back then; it consisted of social
activities and sports like baseball. Basketball had not been invented.
Edison had just invented the phonograph, the first system for recording
and reproducing sound. Very few people had phonographs for many years.
There were no movies, radio, or TV of course. Because of this, many
cities, even small towns, had their own bands. Only later, in the early
1900, did the traveling "Circuit Chautauquas" (or colloquially,
Tent Chautauquas) present
programs for entertainment and education.
There were two choices: the Postal Service or the telegraph; both had
been in use for many years. The telephone had been exhibited at the
1876 Centennial Exhibition, but it took many years to provide phone
service out to rural areas.
The steam locomotive railroad train was the ultimate in modern transportation
by land. Any other land travel was by foot, horseback, or horse or
ox drawn wagons, carts, or carriages. There were probably few carriages
in rural Adair . Roads were usually prepared by scraping the surface
and digging ditches to keep most of the water off the road. Very few
had crushed stone surfaces, much less all-weather paving so travel
was limited in wet weather. Travel by water was
much more common then, but since the trans-continental railroad had
been completed in 1869, fewer people made the trip around Cape Horn
or the alternate, transferring by rail across the Isthmus of Panama.
Air travel was limited to joy rides in hot air balloons, which had
been in use for 100 years.
The "Bicycle Age"
The safety bicycle appeared about 1880. Both wheels were the same size.
During the next ten years various improvements were made in the bicycle,
including rubber tires, ball bearings for wheels, coaster brakes, cushion
saddles, and handle bars that could be adjusted for the rider's comfort.
The bicycle was in its greatest use in the United States from 1889 until
about 1900. In 1889, the air-filled rubber bicycle tire was introduced.
By 1896, about 4,000,000 people in the United States regularly rode bicycles.
In 1899 there were 312 bicycle factories in the country which made more
than 1,000,000 bicycles during the year. Today, more than 24,000,000
people in the United States own bicycles. One factory in Little Rock,
Ark., can turn out as many as 3,000 bicycles a day. (From the 1965 World
There was no indoor plumbing or water supply in the rural areas (and
perhaps none in most small towns). Water had to be drawn from a spring
or from a ëdugí well. (Drilled wells may have been in use
also.) Some people collected rainwater in cisterns. Some people had
hand pumps for pumping water from wells or cisterns, but I think they
were rare in this area. Those were the days of weekly baths in a washtub
in the kitchen or at the swimming hole in the summer, if there was
one near by. I think that many homes didnít even have an outhouse;
the men simply went outdoors or to the barn, the women used a pot or ëslopí jar
which could be emptied outdoors later. Well-to-do families had a commode
seat to hold the pot at a nice sitting height and to provide a cover
for the pot. 'Toilet paper' was not common either.
Although combs and hair brushes were common, many rural people didn't
have tooth brushes. They chewed the end of a twig and brushed their teeth
with that. In the recent '1900 House' TV project, tooth brushes with
pig bristles were used. Handles were probably made of 'hard' rubber.
They didn't have zippers! The first slide fastener was invented in 1892
and the modern metal toothed slide fastener in 1913. In 1924 B.F. Goodrich
introduced Zipper galoshes with slide fasteners.
Aluminum containers and products did not exist. Napoleon had tried to
produce aluminum for equipment for his army, but found that it was too
expensive. There was no plastic, no cellophane, no celluloid. In other
words, products were either natural such as cotton, wool, wood, ivory,
leather and processed rubber or iron, brass, and copper. Probably iron
containers coated with either zinc, enamel, or tin coatings for rust
proofing were available to the common people. Rich people probably had
brass cookware. Many used cast iron pots and skillets.
Rubber was the new material of the century. Although the natives
of Central and South America had used the sap of the rubber tree for
balls and coatings for their feet, it was not until 1823 that Charles
Macintosh of Scotland produced the 'mackintosh' a rubberized cloth raincoat.
In 1839, Charles Goodyear, accidentally discovered the 'vulcanization'
process to make rubber into stable, elastic, airtight, and watertight
products. Solid rubber tires were mounted on Queen Victoria's carriages
Compiled by Carlyss Noland