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10 Historic Events Then and Now

by Blogball
fact checked by Alex Hanton

[Congratulations! This is the third prize winner in our 2009 Christmas Competition.]

As we come to the close of another year I always look forward to the year in pictures put together by many of the television networks. It gives us a chance to remember the year’s triumphs and tragedies and to also look forward to the year ahead. I thought it might be interesting to go back in time and look at what the year in pictures might have looked like 100 years ago. This list is in chronological order and describes some important events that occurred in 1909 matched up with some fascinating photographs. For comparison, I have also included descriptions and photos of what things look like today.


First Men to South Magnetic Pole
January 16, 1909


In 1907 the famous Anglo-Irish explorer Henry Shackleton recruited Douglas Mawson, an Australian geologist and 50 year old lieutenant Edgeworth David for a South Pole Expedition. The plan was for Shackleton and three men to travel to the geographic  South Pole while David and two companions traveled to the magnetic pole. In October 1908 David’s men followed the coast north. Ten weeks and over 1,200 miles later the men arrived at the South Magnetic Pole. The three men then took possession of the region for the British Crown and gave three cheers for the King. Shackleton’s team met with ferocious blizzards and hurricane force winds and were forced to turn back less than 100 miles from the geographic South Pole. The photo above was taken by David and shows himself (center) and his teammates Dr. Alistair Mackay (left) and Douglas Mawson on the right.

100 Years Later


Today some scientists and calculations suggest the first explorers in 1909 might have been off the mark. The magnetic South Pole is constantly shifting due to changes in the Earth’s magnetic field and was recently calculated to be just off the coast of Wilkes Land, Antarctica. A great deal has changed in the area over the last century since explorers first ventured to the South Pole. Skidoos have replaced ponies and dog sleds and airbuses transport research scientists to and from the area. Antarctica has no permanent residents, but a number of governments maintain permanent manned research stations throughout the continent. In 2009 to commemorate 100 years since the first expedition to the South Magnetic Pole, a coin was struck by the Perth Mint.


William Howard Taft Inauguration
March 4th, 1909


Taft was the 27th President of the United States and won the 1908 election by a wave of popular support thanks to previous president and fellow republican, Theodore Roosevelt. A severe and unusual March blizzard hindered the Taft inauguration ceremonies. It took 6,000 city workers and 500 wagons half the night to remove 58,000 tons of snow and slush to clear the parade route. Due to the weather, the inauguration had to be held indoors in the Senate chamber. Helen Herron Taft, in the buggy pictured above, was the first First Lady to accompany her husband on the return ride from the Capitol to the White House.

100 years later

090120 In Detail Inauguration 32

On January 20, 2009 Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States and the first African-American to hold the office. Obama’s inauguration set a record attendance for any event held in Washington, D.C. The bible used during the swearing in ceremony was the same one used by Abraham Lincoln at his 1861 inauguration. When Chief Justice Roberts’ words strayed from the oath of office prescribed in the Constitution, it led to a re-administration the next evening. The record attendance, vast television viewership and internet traffic, made President Obama’s inauguration one of the most observed events ever by a global audience. The photo above shows President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walking the inaugural parade route.


Titanic Construction Begins
March 31, 1909

01 Titanic Keel

The R.M.S. Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast Ireland. It was designed to be the largest ship to ever take to the seas and took 3000 men 3 years to build at a cost of 7.5 million dollars. Titanic’s hull was launched on May 31, 1911 without her engines, boilers, machinery, and furnishings. She was then towed to deeper waters and was completed on March 31, 1912. The ship was 882 feet 9 inches (269.1 m) long and 92 feet (28.0 m) wide and was built to carry a total of 3,547 passengers and crew. There were 159 coal burning furnaces that made possible a top speed of 23 knots. The photograph above shows the keel of the Titanic which is the first part of a ship to be worked on. You can watch the “Hundredth Year since Construction” video tribute here.

100 Years Later


On May 31, 2009 the last survivor of the Titanic, Millvina Dean, (shown above) died at the age of 97. She was only nine weeks old and the youngest passenger on board. Since the Titanic wreckage was discovered in 1985, there have been several expeditions to retrieve artifacts. The Titanic exhibit travels around the world and displays 5,900 pieces of china, ship fittings and personal belongings worth $110.9 million. To mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking, a Titanic Memorial Cruise is being offered in 2012. It will depart on April 8th from Southampton, England as the original ship did and arrive on April 15 at the spot where the Titanic sank. The cruise will then head to Halifax to visit the cemeteries where Titanic victims are buried. One of the largest ships today is the Knock Nevis, a Norwegian-owned supertanker. It measures 1,504.10 ft (458.45 m) in length.


First Men to Reach North Pole
April 6, 1909


In February 1909, American Navy engineer Robert Peary, several Inuit tribesmen, and fellow American of African descent, Matthew Henson, left their ship anchored at Ellesmere Island’s Cape Sheridan. After traveling 480 miles the men reached the geographic North Pole. Peary wrote in his journal: “The Pole at last!!! The prize of 3 centuries, my dream and ambition for 23 years. Mine at last.” The photo above was taken by Peary and shows his crew in the vicinity of the North Pole. Pictured from left to right is Ooqueah, Ootah, Henson, Egingwah, and Seegloo. Matthew. On his return from the Arctic Peary learned of a claim by another American explorer, Frederick A. Cook, who said he had reached the pole first on April 21, 1908. Cook was unable to produce convincing proof, and his claim is not widely accepted.

100 Years later

North Pole

Peary’s claim to be the first to reach the North Pole has become controversial over the past century. Some think Peary may have miscalculated a great distance and never got closer than 121 miles. Today, journeys to the North Pole by air or by icebreaker have become routine. There are even adventure companies that book tours to the North Pole like the one shown above. In 2007, Dutch performance artist Guido van der Werve performed a work of “art” at the North Pole. By standing exactly on the Pole for 24 hours and turning slowly clockwise as the earth turns counterclockwise by just following his own shadow Van der Werve literally did not turn with the world for one day. You can watch the time lapse clip here.


Tel Aviv Founded
April 11, 1909


Tel Aviv was founded on the second day of Passover, 1909. Sixty-six Jewish families gathered on a desolate sand dune outside Yafo which is now Rothschild Boulevard. The plan was to build a Hebrew urban centre in a healthy environment according to the rules of aesthetics and modern hygiene. They parceled out the land by a kind of lottery system. They gathered 60 grey shells and 60 white shells. Family names were written on the white shells and the plot numbers on grey shells. The organizer then paired a white and grey shell assigning each family a plot. The land was called Ahuzat Bayit meaning “Homestead” and then changed a year later to Tel Aviv which means “Spring Hill.”

100 Years Later

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is the now the second largest city in Israel with a population of over 390,000. The city is the home of some of Israel’s largest companies and numerous world leading enterprises. Tel Aviv is also known as, “The white city” named for the bright colored international style buildings built in the city from the 1930s by German Jewish architects who immigrated to the city after the rise of the Nazis. The City has several colleges including Tel Aviv University, founded in 1953 which is now Israel’s largest university. In April 2009 hundreds of thousands of people crowded into Rabin Square for a series of the most lavish events in the city’s history for their centennial celebration .


Heavier than Air Flight
July 25, 1909

Crashlanding Copy

This historic first heavier than air flight across the English Channel by French aviator Louis Bleriot was funded by a grateful family after Bleriot’s wife saved their child from falling to his death. They loaned the almost bankrupt Blériot 25,000 francs which helped him perfect his Blériot XI airplane. The day he took off from Les Barraques, France to cross the channel, Blériot was on crutches because of a recent accident. Twenty minutes into his flight he spotted Margaret’s Bay which told him he was off course. After adjusting his course he saw his friend waving the French Flag which marked his landing spot in Dover. After a very rough landing that collapsed the landing gear, the Frenchman became an instant celebrity and won a thousand-pound prize offered by a London newspaper. The photograph above shows Blériot with reporters after his landing. You can see some great old film footage of Blériot’s take off from France here.

100 Years Later


Other English Channel flight accomplishments since 1909 include: first human-powered aircraft in 1979 and just late last year Swiss pilot and inventor Yves Rossy (shown above) was the first to make it across by jetpack crossing in just 10 minutes at speeds of 100 mph. On July 25 2009, to celebrate one hundred years after Blériot’s famous flight, it was reenacted by another Frenchman, Edmond Salis, in his restored Blériot XI. About 500 people, some in period costumes, were on hand in Calais to see Salis take off. He flew over the English Channel in 40 minutes (slightly longer than Blériot) and landed in the same location near Dover Castle. You can see a great photo of Salis’ reenacted flight here and what it might have looked like (minus the houses and cars) to Blériot as he flew near Dover Castle.


Indianapolis Motor Speedway Opens
August 14, 1909


The first motor race at Indy was actually with motorcycles rather than automobiles. It consisted of 7 motorcycle races, sanctioned by the Federation of American Motorcyclists. The first of the automobile races took place August 19-21, 1909, and consisted of 16 races sanctioned by the American Automobile Association. The photo above shows the start of the1909 Wheeler-Schebler Trophy 300-mile Race which featured 19 of the world’s most powerful cars. The race had to be ended after 235 miles due to deteriorating track conditions. On that first day of car racing, William Baourque and his mechanic Harry Holcomb became the first to die at the speedway from injuries after a crash. Later the speedway was paved with 3.2 million bricks to improve the track. The first 500 mile race was held on Memorial Day, May 30, 1911.

100 Years later


Today Indianapolis Motor Speedway has permanent seating capacity for more than 257,000 people and infield seating that raises capacity to an approximate 400,000. It is the largest and highest-capacity sporting facility in the world. The Speedway’s two and a half mile oval track dimensions have remained essentially unchanged since 1909. Over the last 100 years, average speeds have gone from around 70 miles per hour to over 160 miles per hour. In 2007, the Speedway announced that it would host a round of Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing. This marked the first motorcycle racing event at the facility since the speedway opened in 1909. You can see what motorcycles looked like at that recent event at Indy compared to what they looked like 100 years ago here.


First Paris Air Show
September 25, 1909

Screen Shot 2009-12-22 At 1.36.59 Pm

The first air show in Paris was held at the Grand Palais. Visitors came to admire the early flying machines and also buy them. “A Wright aircraft cost 30,000 francs, a Farman biplane cost 23,000 and a Blériot like the one that just flew across the English Channel cost just 10,000. A magazine writer described the first Paris Air Show this way: “Airborne mechanical locomotion, with its mysterious problems and future revolutions, could not fail to arouse the enthusiasm of the crowd. Never have so many thronged to the Grand Palais; police officers had to form a cordon to restrain the sea of visitors around these pieces of wood and canvas with which Wright had played at being a bird”.

100 Years Later


The Paris Air Show is now one of the most prestigious in the world. Major international manufacturers as well as the military forces of several countries attend the Show. In 1973 the show suffered its worst accident when a Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 crashed killing a crew of six plus eight people on the ground. In June 2009, the Air Show celebrated its 100th anniversary with flight demonstrations from early 20th century aircraft. One of the most popular planes on display was the Bleriot XI (see number 6) which was also the star of the show at the first air show in 1909. A memorial service was also held at centennial air show for the victims of Air France Flight 447 that claimed the life of all 216 passengers and 12 crew members earlier in the month.


The Cherry Mine Disaster
November 13, 1909


The Cherry, Illinois mine disaster is one of the worst accidents in American industrial history. The tragedy occurred after the electrical system went down and workers had to use makeshift torches. As they were lowering a car full of hay to feed the mules stabled underground, a torch ignited the hay and filled the mine with smoke. Of the 490 men and boys in the mine at the time, 259 died from the fire or the poisonous gases it produced and 12 died while trying to rescue their friends. Twenty one miners were trapped but survived by drinking water from a pool of water leaking from a coal seam. They were rescued eight days later. It took approximately six months to remove all the bodies from the mine while funerals were held almost daily for the lost miners.

100 Years Later


On November 14 2009, Cherry, Illinois dedicated a monument (shown above) that lists the names of the 259 workers killed a century ago. Other items shown at the dedication included mining artifacts and a cross-section model of the mine. This disaster forced a crackdown on lax child-labor laws. Also introduced were stronger mine safety regulations which eventually paved the way for modern-day workmen’s compensation laws and later the rise of the United Mine Workers Union. To remember the lives lost, The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois opened a major exhibit on November 1, 2009 called “The Flames Caught Us”. The exhibit runs through March 31, 2010. You can watch a short film that is shown at the exhibit here.


Tallest Building in the World
November, 1909


In 1907 the president of Metropolitan Life Insurance hired architect Napoleon LeBrun and Sons to design a marble office tower that would rival all other large skyscrapers in Manhattan. When the Metropolitan Life Tower was completed in 1909 it became the tallest building in the world. The building has 50 stories and is700 feet (213 m) high. It is modeled after one of the best known buildings in history, The Campanile in Venice, Italy. There are four clocks, one on each side of the tower. Each clock is 26.5 feet (8 m) in diameter with each number measuring four feet (1.2 m) tall. The minute hands on the clock weigh half a ton each. The Met Life building remained the tallest in the world until 1913 when it was surpassed by the Woolworth Building also in New York City which is 57 stories and 792 ft high.

100 years later


On October 1st 2009 it was announced that the exterior of the Burj Dubai was completed. It is the tallest man-made structure ever built at 2,684 ft (818 m) and has 160 floors. During construction its final height was kept a secret due to competition. The building is located on Sheikh Zayed Road near Dubai’s main business district. An Armani Hotel will occupy the lower 37 floors and floors 45 through 108 will have 700 private apartments. Corporate offices and suites will fill most of the remaining floors. The total budget for the Burj Dubai project was about 4.1 billion US. The tower has the world’s fastest elevators at speeds of 40 mph (64km/h). During high winds the tower sways a total of 4.9 ft (1.5 m) at its tallest point. If economic conditions permit, it is expected to be ready for occupancy on January 4th 2010.


Interesting Facts about 1909


In 1909 none of these things had been invented: zippers, band-aids, traffic lights, bubble gum, penicillin, sunglasses, ballpoint pens, shopping carts, nylon stockings, kitty litter, and milk cartons. In the US there were about 230 reported murders and the average life expectancy was 47. An accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year and a dentist $2,500. The average worker made between $200 and $400 per year, but sugar only cost four cents a pound and eggs were just fourteen cents a dozen. Most women washed their hair only once a month and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo. The six leading causes of death were pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease and stroke. From 1909 to 2009 the world population grew from 1.7 billion to 6.4 billion.

fact checked by Alex Hanton