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Time Capsule of 1918


Excerpts from "Memoirs of Rodney Sparkman Jr." 

            My father, Rodney Sparkman  was born 01 December 1918 , a Sunday, in Orth, Young, Texas.  He was the fourth child of six born to the parents of Lewis Napoleon Sparkman[1] and Olivia Pittman Patrick[2].  As farmers, they moved to different parts of East Texas in search of a better life for themselves and their children.  This is evidenced by the births of the children in different areas of East Texas [3].   

I have always wondered why I did not know my father better. There was such an age gap between us.  Our worlds that we grew up in were so different.  He’s always remained a mystery to me. This is due in part because I knew him for a few short years and then he was gone.  He did not have a chance to reminisce in his old age.  I did not have a chance to ask him about his life and write it down.  He wouldn't talk much about his childhood.  Too, the fact that there were few records kept and the life of a farming family in an agrarian society, gradually turning more industrial, dictated that there was little leisure time to ponder and reflect upon one's actions much less document them.  In light of that, an historical snapshot will best give an impression of what it was like to grow up in East Texas during the turn of century.

The twentieth century in the United States began optimistically.  Banker James T. Woodward coined the phrase, “ America is the envy of the world”.  As proof of this statement,  J.P. Morgan formed the first billion dollar company, U.S. Steel.  Inventions like the Kodak Brownie[4] and the alkaline battery by Thomas Edison made modern conveniences accessible to the general public.  In Beaumont Texas , Spindletop, the oil gusher, created the means to fuel a whole new industry and way of life.   Henry Ford formed his car company and millions of automobiles soon were seen roaming throughout the countryside.  If a road did not exist, drivers of these vehicles would create one.  The prevailing attitude was that anything was possible or so it seemed. 

             Even though the Western United States , otherwise known as the “frontier”, was officially closed to expansion by settlement, the relentless, adventurous spirit of America led to military, political, and economic expansionism in the Pacific.  Such was the case with the Philippines and China . The lure of gold in the Alaskan Klondike helped fund this expansion.  American industry was growing at an unprecedented pace with its corresponding need for men and women to labor in its mills.   Tens of thousands of immigrants from all parts of the world wanted desperately to be part of this tremendous transformation.  America had much to offer those who had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  


        Significant events that were certainly on the front pages of all newspapers in the United States were the flight of the Wright brothers and the sinking of the Titanic.  Political and social turmoil could be evidenced by events such as blacks being hung and burned at the stake and suffragettes beginning violent campaigns.  On the natural front, events such as the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and Mount Vesuvius erupting and killing hundreds would certainly have made an impression on the minds of readers. 

            Despite the progress the industrial revolution brought to America as a whole, the benefits to individuals within its society are debatable.  The fortunes that were amassed were not distributed to the general populous.  Widespread pollution of the environment was a byproduct of this industrial juggernaut.  While wages rose in the cities, crime and other social ills grew as well.  Racial intolerance rippled through the fabric of American society.  In like fashion, prices for farm products did not rise correspondingly.  Thus, few benefits of the industrial revolution flowed to the farm.

         Thanks to innovations in science and man's propensity for self-annihilation, destruction of human life was experienced on a massive scale.  The "War to End All Wars" had just been fought and won at great cost.  Rationing was being used on a national scale to support the war effort in Europe .  Great technological strides had been made on all fronts: radio, telegraph, telephone, motion pictures, airplanes, and automobiles allowed people to know more sooner and travel to a destination faster than had ever been possible.  Progress was experienced on a daily basis and soon became expected.  Huge political reforms allowed for greater participation in the democratic process while social reforms attempted to improve working and living conditions.  Prohibition was an outcome of America 's citizens' exercising their will in the new democracy.  Growing isolation and a desire to "return to normalcy" after World War I caused groups like the Ku Klux Klan to prosper.  America 's intolerance of its citizens of a different color or race became rampant and a prominent part of Southern culture and politics.

Life on an East Texas farm during 1918 would have seen few improvements technologically from the turn of the century.  Horse and buggy still were used as a means of transportation [5] and a horse-drawn plow was the principal implement used in tilling the soil for preparation of the fields.  Mechanization on a farm was slowly taking place.  Although easing some of the burdens of the workers, use of machinery continued to be highly labor-intensive.  Indoor sanitation was not widely available.  Care of livestock demanded great time and resources.  Strenuous, physical labor provided the essentials on the dinner table like milk, bread and butter.  Healthcare, about to embark on a revolution of chemical research, would still be limited to the abilities of a country doctor or mid-wife.  The Influenza Outbreak of 1918 proved how helpless medicine really was to combat this modern plague.  Millions worldwide died as a result.  Beyond the basics of learning to read, write, and do simple arithmetic, educational opportunities were limited.  Few modern conveniences were available to its general populous.  Everyday life was difficult for the common man. 

Time Capsule of 1918


Time Capsule of  1918


Key World Events

·        Austria sues Italy for an armistice, and on November 4 surrenders.

·        President Wilson is greeted as a conquering hero throughout Europe.

Key U.S. Events

·        The war will have cost America $41,755,000,000;

·        There will have been 130,174 deaths and 203,460 wounded.

·        Last food bans are lifted in U.S.

President of the U.S.

Woodrow Wilson

Minimum Wage

No federal law existed for the minimum wage

Average National Salary


Average Cost of a Home


Population of the U.S.


Price of an Automobile


Price of a Postage Stamp


Price of a Gallon of Milk


Price of a Loaf of Bread


Price of a Gallon of Gasoline



Henri Matisse painted "Odalisques."   


Charlie Chaplin in "A Dog's Life."


Irving Berlin's "Yip Yip Yaphank."

Being born to Baptist parents, with my grandfather being a Mason, my father's upbringing was typical of the time.  He was raised with a strict moral ethic.  Dad was spiritually thoughtful though not necessarily religious.  A child of the Great Depression, he was sympathetic to those in need.  He's been described as a "workaholic" by those who loved him most.  This penchant for work coupled with a desire to help those in distress has been his trademark.

[1] Born 02 February 1891 taken from a copy of his birth certificate.  The spelling is Lewis Napoleon ("eon" not "ean" as is found is some other documents.

[2] Born 23 December 1890 .

[3] Coleman, Coleman , Texas ; Troy , Bell , Texas and then four areas within Young County Texas i.e. Hunt, Olney, Orth, and Jean.

[4]The first hand-held camera mass produced for general use by the public.

[5] See Figure 3 where Grandpa and Grandma Sparkman (Lewis and Ollie) were driving their wagon to town.  The photo was taken from a Xerox copy given to me by Louise, my sister.  The quality is poor.

[6] 1920 Census information.

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