Saturday, July 4, 2020

Census Sensibility

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! The parades and fireworks may be subdued or scattered this year, so step back with us to the thrilling days of yesteryear to see what the U.S. was like a century ago.
"Hold Tight, Feller" by Archibald Chapin in St. Louis Star, ca. February, 1920

1920 was a year for the decennial census, mandated by the Constitution as part of keeping our Congress as representative of the people as possible. Crowded onto Archibald Chapin's sled are the seven most populous cities in the United States, none of which were in the west (Los Angeles came in tenth), or the south (unless you count Chapin's hometown of St. Louis, sixth).
"Census Reports" by John T. McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, April 18, 1920
The results of the 1920 census revealed a major and continuing shift of the population of the United States from rural to urban areas. Cities' growth came from rural-to-urban migration as well as from overseas immigration, the newcomers attracted by the jobs in the industrial sector. The most striking example was automobile maker Detroit, whose population had doubled since 1910.
Beginning in 1910, the minimum population threshold to be categorized as an urban place was set at 2,500. 'Urban' was defined as including all territory, persons, and housing units within an incorporated area that met the population threshold. The 1920 census marked the first time in which over 50 percent of the U.S. population was defined as urban.
Having just won Congressional majorities in 1918, Republicans realized that going ahead with the constitutionally required reapportionment process would increase the political influence of urban areas where Democratic machines tended to dominate. Reapportionment legislation would stall again and again as rural interests tried to devise mechanisms to blunt the impact of the population shift. Congress would not pass a reapportionment bill until 1929.
"Just Another 'Bumper Crop'..." by Leo Thiele in Sioux City Tribune, ca. June, 1920
Not being able to see that far into their future, editorial cartoonists largely ignored the political ramifications and instead worried that the decrease in farm labor in rural areas would not be able to feed increasing urban populations.
"Help" by Bob Satterfield for Newspaper Enterprise Assn., ca. June, 1920
U.S. Agriculture Department statistics do show that the number of farm workers began a gradual slide around 1920, even as the total U.S. population kept growing. There were well over 13,000 farm workers in the U.S. that year, working on somewhere around 6,500 farms. Those numbers really head downward after 1940, and are now down around 3,000 and 2,000, respectively.
"Two Viewpoints" by Burt Thomas in Detroit News, June, 1920
Detroit cartoonist Burt Thomas did take note of the mutual resentment between rural and urban citizens. His farmer sees all the benefits of prosperity going to those city slickers, while his urban laborer finds his wages depressed by the hicks in the sticks.
"How Times Have Changed for 'The Poor Working Girl'" by Leo Bushnell for Central Press Assn., May, 1920
Leo Bushnell's take on working women is pretty idealized, but it is true that urbanization and the recently ended war had opened up new roles for women. The Nineteenth Amendment was still a state short of ratification when this cartoon was drawn
"Now, John, When I Was a Young Codger..." by George W. Rehse in New York World, June/July, 1920
The industry behind the population boom in Detroit had effects nationwide, as shown in this George Rehse cartoon and the popularity of "Gasoline Alley" and its imitators.
"Improving the Scenery" by Gustavo Bronstrup in San Francisco Chronicle, July, 1920
Advertisers certainly had taken note of all those people riding around in their automobiles. Within cities, advertisements attached to or painted on the sides of buildings were common; out in the countryside, freestanding billboards proliferated as more and more people took to the roads.

The earliest recorded billboards actually date back to 1867, followed five years later by the founding of the advertisers' lobbying group, the International Bill Posters Association (since renamed the Outdoor Advertising Association of America).

While I appreciate the point he's making about uglifying the scenery, I have some qualms about resurrecting Mr. Bronstrup's cartoon because of its superfluous use of an African-American stereotype on the smokeless tobacco ad — the only face visible anywhere in the cartoon. I can't tell whether he's reflecting a common trope or making a criticism of it; but the thoughtless racism of the day would have rendered such a rude caricature completely unremarkable. Nearly all white cartoonists drew Black people in this way (John Cassel is a notable exception).

Coming around full circle, I'll close with this from Magnus Kettner:
"The Joyriders" by Magnus Kettner for Western Newspaper Union, ca. July 13, 1920
The scarf of the woman in the front seat reads "Extravagance," and I can understand why the farmer might resent her "hollering about the high cost of food stuff." If he feels the same way about the back seat passengers, "High Production" and "Shorter Hours," I guess he must be raising sour grapes.

No comments:

Post a Comment