I'm a huge fan of Shorpy. For those of you unfamiliar, Shorpy is a blog featuring huge, high resolution images from the past. Most of the images are from the Library of Congress archives, and are reproduced from glass plate negatives. Typically the images range in dates from the late 1800's through WWII. You can browse Shorpy, or go directly to the LOC Archive and query the database yourself to see the pics in their high rez awesomeness.
Its a fascinating glimpse of the past. Some of the pictures are of city scenes. Some are portraits of prominent people of the day. Others are of vehicles and storefronts and day to day life.
I tend to gravitate toward the images that show people going about their daily lives. That fascinates me. I also enjoy the storefront and delivery vehicle pics.
Its useful, also, to take a moment to examine some of the notable landmarks that you see in the pictures. Many buildings appear multiple times in the archive, over a period of years. For example, here is a shot of the Flatiron Building during its construction in 1902.
The epitome of construction technology at the turn of the last century. Amazing.
Here's the same building after its completion. This pic is from 1908:
It looks virtually the same today. A tangible piece of our past that we can see every day.
Now the next two pictures I'm posting not because I think they are particularly attractive or interesting in subject matter:
That's the New York Public Library as it's construction was nearing completion circa 1908. Notice the almost complete lack of automobiles. In fact, there is only one engine powered vehicle in view. Street cars were prevalent, and would remain so for many years. Foot traffic was pretty continuous. The balance of traffic during this period in any photos is horse or mule powered.
This is another shot from virtually the same angle just 7 years later. Notice anything besides better landscaping in front of the library?
It's useful to note some things:
For all intents and purposes, the Automobile virtually replace horse drawn conveyance in less than a decade. This change involved more than just people deciding to buy cars when they became available. In the beginning there was virtually no infrastructure to support Automobiles. No Gas Stations, no repair shops, no parking lots. There were no car lots. There were only the beginnings of automobile manufacturing industries.
Hell.... in the early years almost no one even knew how to drive!
Yet still the Automobile almost completely replaced the horse & buggy in almost the blink of any eye - in historical terms.
There was no Government Bail Out of the Wagon making industry. They weren't considered "too big to fail". The Government didn't take over the Wagon building industry. There were no mandates from the Government that people switch from horse powered locomotion to engine powered. There were no Government subsidies inacted to support the new industry.
So, what was the secret? How on earth did this happen?
The Automobile replaced the Horse & Buggy because it was a good idea.
People had a need that the automobile filled. It was an improvement to their lives that they were willing to pay for with their own money. The people in the wagon and buggy making business either adapted to making automobiles (Studebaker) or shifted to Farming Implements (John Deere) or just flat went under. As people bought Cars and Trucks, they needed gas, parts, and repair shops. Other people saw this swelling need as an opportunity and gas stations and repair shops soon sprang up to replace livery stables and feed stores.
You'll notice the complete lack of "The Government" taking any role at all. They weren't needed to encourage people to behave in one way or the other. The first thought in people's minds wasn't "How can the Government help me?". The Government was largely expected to just get the hell out of the way and let us get on with living our lives.
The Past is a place that is often glorified and looked upon longingly by those with selective memories. Undoubtedly, though, they certainly managed to get quite a few things right. We could learn a lot from them if we could manage to pull our heads out of our collective butts long enough.
I think on this phenomenon whenever I hear the President and other Liberals tout the importance of "Green Jobs", "Green Energy", and the ever pervasive need they have to insinuate themselves into every aspect of our lives - because of course we need them.