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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Old magazine
shows of changing times

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Recently I added an October 1918 Popular Mechanics magazine to my old magazine collection. At this age I am no longer legally bound to give any reasons why I collect this stuff. I think it is because it shows our continually changing times.

For example, in 1918, a year's subscription of 12 issues cost only $2. That's 4 regular postage stamps today. Each issue included 165 pages chock-full of information, advice, illustrations and meaningful ads with no side effects promised.

Hundreds of ads, designed to catch the eyes of returning World War I veterans, tout the advantages of learning a trade or acquiring more education in many fields. The locations of the schools and prices of this timely knowledge were plainly exhibited promising $250 per month and up to $10,000 per year income.

Home-schooling information dominated many ads with related tool kits, models, text books and catalogues offered, all sent direct to your mailbox. With the course completed you received an embossed, stamped, gilt-edged diploma suitable for framing. The magazine logo promised it was "written so you can understand it." Established in 1879, the purpose was to inform the public of the latest inventions and processes on the market at that time. Also included are true, firsthand accounts of events of interest. This particular issue told of events of World War I, dramatic news at that moment. Many articles pertained to the new-fangled gadget called the automobile. One page showed and told of a device to help you align your tires so they would not wear. My first thought was that it's hard to imagine a tire wearing down at 25 mph on a dirt road. Another ad showed a foot warmer you heated on your wood stove before entering the unheated car. Pure wood alcohol was used as radiator fluid. Another article tells of a newly patented device that created suction so lint could be vacuumed from cotton spinning machines. Could this be the forerunner to the vacuum cleaner? Another machine looking like today's street cleaner spread sand on icy streets. An events page showed a tractor plowing a city park in Detroit where vegetables were to be planted to help feed the hungry. Was this a forerunner to Meals on Wheels? Simple improvements are drawn in detail, like how to make a glue pot out of tin cans and a candle, how to build a jack handle with more leverage and how to keep belts from slipping when driving a machine. With U.S. Mail postage approaching 3 cents per letter at the time, there is a diagram showing how to save money by building a postal scale out of a quart fruit jar, glass test tube and a lead fish-line weight. How can you save one-half of a penny? The final pages demonstrate how to patch and vulcanize an inner tube for a car, revitalize your tired muscles, purchase and learn to play a kazoo for 15 cents, and buy the entire script, dialog, music and directions on how to present a minstrel show. Talk about changing times.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
July 21, 2009 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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