CLOSE
Original image
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

24 Sure Signs You’re an 1890s Kid

Original image
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

If you can remember these fashion fads, recess trends, and dubious medical practices, you were definitely an 1890s kid.

1. Acting Up in Class Was Punishable by “Nose Hole” (If You Were Lucky).

Truly bad behavior often led to some old-fashioned corporal punishment. That said, lenient teachers had another card to play when a minor offense was committed. Culprits would be instructed to clasp their hands behind them and press their noses up against a circle drawn on the blackboard (aka: “the nose hole”) for a few embarrassing minutes.

2. You Played “Ante Over” At Recess.

The rules were simple. Two teams would stand on opposite sides of a building and toss a ball over the roof, shouting “Ante-Over!” with each serve. This volleyball-like sport remained a treasured pastime until the Second World War.

3. You Used Cocaine to Fight Toothaches.

Well, that’s one way to get junior to take his medicine! Medicinal toothache drops laden with the addictive substance could be had for a measly fifteen cents per bottle.

4. Ragtime Was Considered Scandalous.

Long before televangelists were denouncing rock ‘n roll, Gilded Age critics complained that Ragtime fanciers had “sold themselves body and soul to the musical devil.”

5. Beautiful Joe Made You Cry.

Scott Plumbe

Marley & Me has nothing on Marshall Saunders! Her 1893 book, told from the perspective of a hopeful little dog, sold just under 1,000,000 copies. Legions of kids fell in love with plucky Joe’s story, and teared up whenever it involved a vicious human abusing him.

6. You Didn't Know if Your New Friends’ Houses had Indoor Plumbing.

Make no mistake—flush toilets were definitely around. But less than a quarter of American homes actually included them late in the 19th century, partially because running water hadn’t yet taken off in many regions.

7. You Knew Gelett Burgess’ Poem “Purple Cow” By Heart.

Thinkstock

“I never saw a purple cow/ I never hope to see one/ But I can tell you anyhow/ I’d rather see than be one.” This simple rhyme (published in 1895) became an unexpected national hit. Overwhelmed by its meme-like popularity, Burgess spoofed his own creation two years later: “O yes, I wrote the Purple Cow/ I’m sorry now I wrote it/ But I can tell you anyhow, / I’ll kill you if you quote it.”

8. Your Mom Really Wanted a Turkish Couch.

Thanks to your good friends at the Sears-Roebuck company, Turkish couches turned into very popular mail-order furnishings. 

9. You Heard the Terrifying Screams of Edison’s Phonograph Dolls.

Not all of Thomas Edison’s inventions were hits. The short-lived “Phonograph Doll” recited pre-recorded nursery rhymes, which were stored on wax records. However, these discs wore out fast—and when they did, the toy released a blood-curdling screech. Parents of traumatized children demanded refunds en masse, forcing Edison to pull the plug.

10. You Had to Curtsy or Bow to Your Teacher Every Morning.

You’d be expected to perform one of these genteel gestures while entering the school-house each day, a ritual called “making your manners." [PDF]

11. You Remember Rover II Mania.

John Kemp Starley’s Rover II safety bicycle was a huge seller in the U.S. and U.K. alike; midway through the decade, some 300 firms were mass-producing them. Cycling was big business, as evidenced by the 100,000-member-strong “League of American Wheelmen.” 

12. If You Were A Boy, You Couldn't Wait to Outgrow Knickers.

Stores and catalogues offered a nearly-endless variety of Knickerbockers, but these were mostly just for kids. Baseball players notwithstanding, young men usually swapped their baggy shorts for a decent pair of trousers in their teen years.

13. You Couldn't Wait to get Your First Shirtwaist.

Putting on one of those blouse-like garments for the first time (around her 15th birthday or so) sometimes felt like a gal’s rite of passage, since younger children largely didn’t wear them.

14. You Remember Jelly-Con’s Sweet Dessert Empire.

Before Jell-O came along, its now-extinct rival, Jelly-Con, offered similar gelatin products “for the immediate production of a delicious and tempting Dessert.” These two companies would later embark on an epic Coke/Pepsi-style advertising duel.

15. You Visited the Local Milk Bar.

Large dairy companies wouldn’t go through the expense of pasteurizing their own milk, so independent street-corner “processing stations” began flourishing in cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago. Trained vendors used to pasteurize pints and quarts of the stuff, which were then sold off at prices even the poorest families could afford.

16. “Rival Policemen” Was Your Favorite Board Game.

The Games We Played, by Margaret Hofer

Competing police forces struggled to catch the largest number of wanted felons in this McLoughlin Brothers classic.

17. You Rooted for the Boxing Gordon Sisters.

Eccentric vaudeville performers were a dime a dozen, but this gaggle of fighting siblings just might’ve taken the cake. Bessie (“Belle”), Minnie, Alice, and Freda Gordon spent several glorious years in the late 1890s and early 1900s slugging it out while touring the east coast, delighting gimmick-loving audiences.

18. You Shouted “Bully!”

Today, we mainly associate this exclamation (meaning “wonderful” or “excellent”) with Theodore Roosevelt’s odd vocabulary, but folks of all ages were yelling “Bully!” long before TR occupied the Oval Office.

19. The Pledge of Allegiance Went Like This:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Written by National Education Association committeeman Francis Bellamy in 1892, the original recitation was barely tampered with until 1923 (it was changed still further in 1954, when the phrase “Under God” was added).

20. Christmas Season Was Roughly One Week Long.

Consider the diary of one Mr. Llewellyn Barker. In 1890, his family didn’t start shopping for Christmas presents until December 19th and waited until the 24th to cut down a tree. In the days before mass-marketing and X-Mas jingles being played in early November, their approach was quite typical.

21. You Might Have Taken “Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People.”

The awesomely-named drug was heavily advertised in 82 countries & claimed to help cure any disease caused by “thin, impoverished blood” or “nervous disorders resulting from malnutrition."

22. You Wore a Lot of Mauve.

During the late 19th century, purple clothes—long associated with royalty thanks to the expensive dyes used in making them—became so widely-available that the 1890s have been called “The Mauve Decade.”

23. You Wanted to Play the Mandolin.

Just before the two countries went to war, roaming American bands found great success imitating Spanish music. Their most iconic weapon? The festive mandolin.

24. Happiness was a Steel Rolling Hoop.

The timeless game of “hoop rolling” could be challenging, but wooden hoops made it tougher still because they needed to be repeatedly hit with one’s stick in order to keep moving. Metal varieties, on the other hand, could be pushed along more easily.

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.

Original image
Getty Images
arrow
History
13 Vintage Photos of People Watching Solar Eclipses
Original image
Getty Images
Ahead of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, take a peek at these old photos of Earthlings with their eyes glued to the skies.
Original image
Hulton Archive // Getty Images
arrow
History
10 Facts About the Battle of Bunker Hill
Original image
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

The battles of Lexington and Concord—which kicked off the clash between Great Britain and the colonies—were historically and politically important, but relatively small in scale. The battle of Bunker Hill, however, was another story: Fought on June 17, 1775, it had a sky-high body count. Though the colonies were defeated, American forces performed so impressively and inflicted so many casualties on their powerful opponent that most rebels took it as a moral victory. Here’s your guide to the Bay State’s most storied battle.

1. ITS NAME IS A MISNOMER.

Massachusetts's Charlestown Peninsula, located just north of Boston, was a strip of land with great strategic value. In June 1775—less than two months after the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord—word was circulating that the British aimed to seize the peninsula, a move that would strengthen their naval presence in the area. To prevent this, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety (a patriot-run shadow government organization) ordered Colonel William Prescott to build a fort on Bunker Hill, near the peninsula’s northern shore.

On the night of June 16, Prescott marched 1000 men south of Charlestown Peninsula. Whether because he was intentionally disobeying orders or simply couldn’t find the right hill in the dark, he had his men fortify Breed's Hill rather than Bunker Hill. Toiling through the night, the militia men dug a wide trench surrounded by 6-foot dirt walls. In retaliation, the Brits attacked the next day. Following a barrage of cannonballs launched by His Majesty’s ships, hundreds of Redcoats landed on the peninsula and repeatedly charged the makeshift fortress.

The vast majority of this action took place on or around Breed’s Hill, but the name “Battle of Bunker Hill” remains in use. In the 1800s, Richard Frothingham theorized that the 110-foot Bunker Hill was a “well-known public place,” while the smaller Breed’s Hill was a less recognizable landmark, which might be the reason for the confrontation’s misleading moniker.

2. ONE PARTICIPANT WAS THE FATHER OF A FUTURE U.S. PRESIDENT.

America’s fourteenth Commander-in-Chief, Franklin Pierce, is primarily remembered for signing the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act during his one-term White House stint. Pierce’s father, Benjamin, fought on the rebellion’s side at Bunker Hill and later became Governor of New Hampshire. Another noteworthy veteran of that battle was Daniel Shays, after whom Shays’ Rebellion is named.

3. THAT FAMOUS ORDER “DON’T FIRE UNTIL YOU SEE THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES!” MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN SAID.

According to legend, this iconic order was either given by Prescott or Major General Israel Putnam when the British regulars first charged Breed’s Hill in the early afternoon. Because the rebels had a gunpowder shortage, their commanders instructed them to conserve their ammunition until the enemy troops were close enough to be easy targets.

But as author Nathaniel Philbrick pointed out in this interview, there’s no proof that anybody actually hollered “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” which has been quoted in countless history textbooks and was even riffed in one of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons. “We know that someone said ‘Hold your fire until you see the whites of their half-gaiters,' which [were] the splash guards on the regulars’ feet,” Philbrick said. “That doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

4. OVER 100 BLACK SOLDIERS TOOK PART.

An estimated 150 African-Americans, including both slaves and freemen, fought the British at Bunker Hill. Among them was Salem Poor, an ex-slave who bought his freedom in 1769 at the price of 27 pounds. During the battle, he fought so valiantly that many of his white peers later petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to reward Poor for his heroism [PDF]. Another black combatant, Peter Salem, is sometimes credited with shooting Major John Pitcairn, a British marine whose commanding role at Lexington had earned him notoriety in the colonies—though other sources cite Poor as the infamous redcoat’s killer. Salem himself had fought at Concord and would later see action in Saratoga and Stony Point.

5. WHEN THE PATRIOTS RAN OUT OF AMMUNITION, MANY RESORTED TO CHUCKING ROCKS.

The British's first march on Breed’s Hill quickly devolved into a bloody mess. Rather than spreading themselves out, the advancing infantry arrived in a tightly-packed cluster, making it easy for rebel gunmen to mow them down. The redcoats were also hindered by the rough terrain, which was riddled with rocks, holes, and fences. These factors forced the British into an inglorious retreat. After regrouping, the infantrymen marched on the hill once again—and, just as before, they were driven back.

The first two assaults had thoroughly depleted the colonists’ supply of ammunition, leaving them vulnerable. When the redcoats made their third ascent that day, the rebels had nearly run out of bullets. Struggling to arm themselves, some colonists improvised by loading their muskets with nails, scrap metal, and broken glass. As a last-ditch effort, several dropped their firearms and hurled rocks at the invaders. Such weapons proved insufficient and the Americans were finally made to abandon the hill.

6. THE REDCOATS SET FIRE TO NEARBY CHARLESTOWN.

Charlestown, now one of Boston’s most historic neighborhoods, was originally a separate village seated at the base of Breed’s Hill. Once a thriving community with 2000 to 3000 residents, the locals—afraid for their safety—started abandoning the area after that infamous “shot heard round the world” rang out at Lexington. By June 17, Charlestown had become a virtual ghost town. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, American snipers took to stationing themselves inside the empty village. So, to protect his own men, British General William Howe ordered that Charlestown be burned. The troops used superheated cannonballs and baskets filled with gunpowder to lay the town low.

The inferno didn’t spread to Breed’s Hill, but its effects were most definitely felt there. “A dense column of smoke rose to great height,” wrote an eyewitness, “and there being a gentle breeze from the south-west, it hung like a thunder cloud over the contending armies.”

Some 380 buildings went up in flame. Such destruction was without precedent: Although the British had torched some isolated homes at Lexington, this was the first occasion in which an entire village or town was deliberately set ablaze during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, the colonies hadn’t seen the last of these large-scale burnings.

7. BRITAIN SUFFERED A DISPROPORTIONATE NUMBER OF CASUALTIES.

Though the redcoats prevailed, their victory was a Pyrrhic one. Nearly half of the estimated 2400 British troops who fought at Bunker Hill were killed or wounded. How many men did the Americans lose? Four hundred and fifty—out of an overall force of 1200. The rebels may have been bested, but they’d also put on an impressive showing against some of the most feared and well-trained troops on Earth. Bunker Hill thus became a morale boost for the patriots—and a cause for concern back in England.

One day after the showdown, a British officer lamented “We have indeed learned one melancholy truth, which is that the Americans, if they were equally well commanded, are full as good soldiers as ours, and as it is are very little inferior to us, even in discipline and steadiness of countenance.”

8. PAUL REVERE LATER CONDUCTED SOME FORENSIC DENTISTRY AT THE BATTLEGROUND.

Fun fact: On top of being a silversmith and perhaps the most famous messenger in American history, Paul Revere was a part-time dentist. He learned the trade under an Englishman named John Baker in the 1760s. Revere’s mentor taught him the art of forging replacement teeth out of ivory and other materials, and the future rebel eventually established himself as an in-demand Boston dentist. One of his clients was Dr. Joseph Warren, the man who would dispatch Revere—and fellow rider William Dawes—to warn some Massachusetts statesmen that British troops were headed towards Lexington and Concord on a fateful, much-mythologized night in April 1775.

During the Battle of Bunker Hill, Warren, a Major General, decided to fight right on the front line with patriot volunteers despite his rank and was killed. When the battle was over, Warren's body was dumped into a shallow grave with another slain American..

When the British pulled out of the area in 1776, Warren’s kin finally had the chance to give him a dignified burial. But there was a big problem: Several months had elapsed and the corpses were now rotted to the point of being indistinguishable from each other.

Enter Revere. The silversmith joined a party of Warren’s family and friends in searching for the General’s remains. They knew they'd found the right body when Revere identified a dental prosthetic that he had made for Warren years earlier.

9. THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE LAID DOWN THE CORNERSTONE OF THE BUNKER HILL MONUMENT.

The Bunker Hill Monument Association wanted to create a grand memorial honoring those who’d given their lives in the Revolution’s first major battle—and on June 17, 1825, 50 years after Putnam and Warren’s men squared off against the British, the monument’s cornerstone was laid at Breed’s Hill. Putting the rock into place was the visiting Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the Revolution who was, as the musical Hamilton put it, “America’s favorite fighting Frenchman.” (For the record, though, he personally didn’t fight at the battle site he was commemorating that day.) Due to funding issues, this granite structure—a 221-foot obelisk—wasn’t finished until 1842. As for Lafayette, he was later buried in Paris beneath soil that had been taken from that most historic of battle sites, Bunker Hill.

10. “BUNKER HILL DAY” IS NOW A MAJOR HOLIDAY IN BOSTON.

In 1786, Bean Town began the tradition of throwing an annual parade in honor of the patriots who saw action on the Charlestown Peninsula. It takes place the Sunday on or before June 17—which itself is celebrated throughout Boston and its home county as “Bunker Hill Day.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios