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US History In The 20th Century: 1901 - 1920

Updated on August 29, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

1904, St. Louis World's Fair

East Lagoon. Statue of Saint Louis in the foreground, with Palaces of Education and Manufacture, and wireless telegraph tower.
East Lagoon. Statue of Saint Louis in the foreground, with Palaces of Education and Manufacture, and wireless telegraph tower. | Source
Daily program.
Daily program. | Source

Change in the Early 20th Century

The early 20th Century in America is very interesting to me, because of the abundance of new inventions and the part some of my ancestors played in bringing the USA to this point in history.

My father's family came to America in the late 1700s from what is now the UK. Surnamed Terrell, they were very distantly related to the Stewarts of the Royal Family of England. Another group of family from the paternal side came over by ship in the early 1800s. Some stayed in and around New England and a few others migrated to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and even as far west as Colorado. A few that had been living in Ireland most likley worked on the Transcontinental Railroad that finally reached across the length of America.

My great grandfather fought in the American Civil War for the Union Army and set up shop in Madison County near London, Ohio after the war. His shop made tools for work on the National Road, the famous Route 40. His son worked on the National Road on the other side of that state in the next generation, in Geurnsey county around Cambridge and Zanesville. Some of the family met Johnny Appleseed as he distributed apple seeds thoughout the region. They also worked on the farms that they owned and in the pottery houses, joining African Americans and Native Americans in work.

The other side of the family was Mohawk and French intermixed, in this country much longer, since the 1600s at least. One ancestor translated languages at the Battle of Fort Pitt. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of the family worked on their own farms, in their own business such as restaurants, and in the coal mining industry. One narrowly escaped the Millfield Coal Mine Disaster.

A co-worker of mine a few years back retired from the USA Army when the Panama Canal was turned over to the Panamanian Government in 1999 and came to work in education and social services. The land itself had been acquired by the US in 1903 and returned in 1979, after 76 years. Interestingly, a relative of mine was born in 1903 and died in 1979.

1903, Kitty Hawk NC

The Wright Flyer
The Wright Flyer

US Presidents at the Start of a New Century

1900: USA goes on the Gold Standard, backing up all their printed currency with gold kept in government vaults. The same year, the Galveston hurricane killed nearly 8,000 people in Texas.

  • William McKinley - 1901
  • Theodore Roosevelt: 1901 - 1909

General Teddy Roosevelt was a hero with his Rough Riders in the Battle of San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War and served as Vice President under McKinley. He was uncle to Eleanor and future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who were cousins.

In 1903, when few people even had automobiles, the Wright Brothers flew their Wright Flyer successfully at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina leading the way to the formation of NASA under the Kennedy Administration in the early 1960s. By 1969, we were already on the moon, after 63 years of flight. By 1908, the Wright plane was purchased by the federal government for official use and was significant in World War I. The Wright Brothers are commemorated at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan outside of Detroit; and in Dayton, Ohio in the Wright Patterson Air Force Base Museum and in the city of Dayton in Carillon Park, where a replica of their bicycle shop stands.

Also in 1903, Henry Ford began the Ford Motor Company, producing the Model T Ford in 1909.

The St. Louis World's fair was held in 1904. The site of a portion of the fair is still intact, its buildings forming a circle of museums that include a planetarium. The 1904 Olympic Games were held as part of the Fair, the first Olympic Games held in the USA.

"Cliff Dwellers" presented at the 1904 World's Fair
"Cliff Dwellers" presented at the 1904 World's Fair

1904 World's Fair

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Palace of Varied Industries
The Palace of Varied Industries
The Palace of Varied Industries

In 1908, The Bureau of Investigation was initiated, later to become the FBI.

In July, 1909, the 16th Amendment was ratified, permitting a federal income tax to be taken.

  • William Howard Taft: 1909 - 1913

American Robert Peary and his entourage reached the North Pole in 1909.

The NAACP was formed by W.E.B. DuBois in response to George Washington Carver's close work with whites, to the point of not seeking patents for hundreds of his products.

The 17th Amendment is ratified in 1913, ensuring that US Senators will be elected by the popular vote.

  • Woodrow Wilson: 1913 - 1921

The Panama Canal was opened in 1914, allowing boat and shipping traffic through the center of the Western Hemisphere. Since explorers never found the Northwest Passage to date in 1914, men built a passage through the narrower corridor in Panama, which had the advantage of a more temperate climate than the Arctic regions as well.

World War I was fought from 1914 - 1918, with the US declaring War on Germany and Austria-Hungary. It was called The War to End All Wars, but it was not. Two interesting true stories about WWI are presented at Christmas in a War Zone and All Quiet on the Western Front.

In 1919, the 18th Amendment was ratified, outlawing alcoholic beverages and their production and sale in the USA.

The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1919, ensuring the right of women to vote.

Also in 1919, the League of Nations was formed without the US as a member.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Admiral Peary Reaches North Pole, 1909Panama Canal
Admiral Peary Reaches North Pole, 1909
Admiral Peary Reaches North Pole, 1909 | Source
Panama Canal
Panama Canal | Source

© 2008 Patty Inglish MS


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    • nene7884 profile image


      9 years ago from Savannah,GA

      This is a really informative page I have a bit of 20th century history on my page about Savannah,GA

    • profile image

      Don Shurts 

      11 years ago

      Always love reading your hubs about our area and our most famous brothers, Orville and Wilbur!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      12 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      And I keep finding more links! A German with the laste name Whitehead flew a plane in 1901. I must find out more about this too!

      There's an 1890s song..."Take me up in a balloon, boys, take me up in a balloon..."

    • compu-smart profile image


      12 years ago from London UK

      Great hub Patty,

      You always make everything you publish very interesting;)

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      12 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Indeed it does! From 1903 - 1969 to the Moon was only 63 years - a lifetime, but not so long in the Universe of time. So now we are at 105 years and counting, not yet living on the moon or mars. What will happen next?

      1904 - who has a car? - a very tiny few. Hand-crank record players coming up. Crystal radios popular. No airplane travel - hot air balloons in France.

      1940-1950s - TV was just getting started, no cellphones, no DVDR, No CD, No VHS, no audio casette tapes. No personal computers. Party line telephones, if you even had one. Typewriters big and bulky and loud. Transister radios popular. Headphones only if you were a pilot or radio broadcaster. UNIVAC computer as big as a room. Wringer washing machines still in use.  Desk top computers as big as a dog and had to be hand cranked.

      It is truly amazing.Watching the Back To the Future films is fun!

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      12 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      It is so amazing when you can trace your family back that far. I loved your hub. Looking at your article, it covers a time 100 years ago give or take...Doesn't it just blow your mind when you think into what has changed, what has been developed and invented since???

      great & interesting Hub regards Zsuzsy

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      12 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks for the information Lissie. I have read that the wrights thought only that they came up with a new system of controlling the plane and did not invent powered flight, so that fits.

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      12 years ago from New Zealand

      What a great series of hubs - well done! Got to say though as New Zealander that there is some evidence that Richard Pearce, a NZ farm boy, bet the Wright brothers to powered flight!


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