Sarah Stilwell-Weber was one of The Saturday Evening Post’s most sought after artists. She even turned down Post editor George Horace Lorimer’s offer to have regularly scheduled pieces because she didn’t want to work on another’s deadline. Between 1904 and 1925, her work was featured on over 60 covers of both the Post and The Country Gentleman (a sister publication of the Post).
A student of famous illustrator Howard Pyle and the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, one of the top art schools in the country, Stilwell-Weber captured a lighter side of the Victorian Era and the early 20th century in her work. Her young subjects were often on the move, playing games and exploring the world around them. Her mentor, Howard Pyle, told her never to marry, as it would interfere with her artistic life. However, she ignored him and married anyway.
While the children are forming their own marching band, Mom and Dad wonder if Santa takes returns.
Forget flower crowns, these girls made a flower cape for their May Day parade grand marshal.
Is there anything better than splashing in waves, soaking up sun, and building sand castles?
In the early 1900s, the Post covers were printed with a “duotone” two-color process: black and another color, usually red. This process is what makes the umbrella, flowers, and rosy cheeks on this little girl and her doll pop.
House cats are just too tame. This stylish young woman dared to make a leopard her pet.
While many Post covers just show portraits of pretty young women, Stilwell-Weber adds life and movement to the traditional medium. This woman joins in the children’s fun after a stray snowball almost hits her.
Rolling her way straight into your heart, this tot on wheels is ready for a hug.
With that mischievous grin, this little one could be gathering momentum to jump or complete a loop-de-loop over the tree branch.
Early January’s sci-fi-sounding ‘polar vortex’ dropped thermometers well below zero and dumped countless tons of snow from New Mexico to Maine. Flights were cancelled, power lines went down, and across the country, road travel became either impractical or impossible.
In short, it was sucked for drivers, but you might draw comfort from how much more comfortable winter driving has become in the past few decades. Heaters, defrosters, and even closed roofs were novelties in cars, as you’ll see in these advertisements from the The Saturday Evening Post and our sister publication, the former Country Gentleman.
You know it’s cold when you invent a way to electrocute yourself to stay warm.
Winter on the outside… Living room on the inside!
Once upon a time, closed-roof cars were pretty novel.
“The heat is there — Why not use it?”
It’s just like sitting by the fireplace…
Again, the fireplace promise of “living room comfort” in your car.
Who knows what this “Weather Eye” does?
When the roads are rough — Why not just fly?
Because the décor of Christmas doesn’t change, one Christmas looks pretty much like any other. The only things that seems to change much are the gifts. And the advertisements.
The ads in this gallery show how much Christmas gifts, and advertising, have changed over the past century. Some gifts, such as warm socks or jewelry, have remained constant. Other gift ideas, such as giving your wife leisure or freedom in the form of a vacuum cleaner, show just how much Americans have changed in the past 100 years.
Get your boy a rifle–What could go wrong?
Oh goody! Santa brought us hand-shoes!
A timeless Christmas gift.
“The gift that insures shapely feet.” It’s too bad about his face, though.
This guy’s looking pretty stylish in 1923.
What says leisure like a vacuum cleaner?
Santa has a daughter?
This 1926 ad stresses utility over all else.
Silverware is a recurring gift idea for women in the early 20th century.
Nothing warms a girl’s heart like a good refrigerator.
Take a look at this colorful perfume ad from 1933.
“Let Frigidaire glorify her Christmas–and your judgment!”
This ad continues the trope of vacuums as leisure devices.
Give him some dignity!
What’s more timeless than warm socks?
Check out these men’s jackets from 1948.
Well, at least dad and the kids are having fun here.
Schick patented the first electric razor in 1928. This one’s from 1952.
Make no mistake: This dream pipe is no pipe dream.
Sears and Roy Rogers: Welcome to 1956.
Electric razors are a common gift idea for men. But what about women?
Nothing says 1958 like an appliance ad featuring Lucy and Desi.
In “America’s Wealth Gap” (Nov/Dec 2012), writer Frederick Allen asks: “What is to be done about the yawning difference between the super rich and the rest of us?”
The Post was wrestling with similar questions in these 19th and 20th century articles from our archives.
President Andrew Jackson harbored a deep-seated distrust of banking and corporate influence. In this 1833 address to Congress, he shared his suspicion that the Bank of the United States intervened in local and national elections.
In 1902, reporter William Allen White summarized the first year under the Roosevelt Administration and predicted that Roosevelt’s politics would not be swayed by the rich.
In this 1906 article, author David Graham Phillips defended President Teddy Roosevelt’s attack on the corrupting power of the super rich.
In 1907, Post contributors presented different viewpoints on whether President Roosevelt aided a square deal in business operations.
In 1919, former U.S. Senator Albert J. Beveridge reported on the economic evolution of the early 20th century.
There must be good money in making predictions because no one would go into the business for job satisfaction.
If you correctly foresee events a century before they occur, none of your contemporaries will still be alive to remember your predictions. Furthermore, the marvels you forecast—manned flight, say, or the internet—will seem inevitable and obvious after the fact, robbing you of any credit for foresight. And if you’re wrong, you’ll probably sound ridiculous.
Yet each new year, a new batch of predictors offer us their forecasts for the future. Most are promptly forgotten. One who deserves to be remembered, though, is John Elfreth Watkins, Jr., a Post writer in the early 20th Century. Back in December 1900, he wrote his ideas about “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years” for the Post’s sister publication, the Ladies’ Home Journal.
Where he was wrong, he was very, very wrong:
Nicaragua (i.e. Panama) will ask for admission to our Union after the completion of the great canal. Mexico will be next. Europe, seeking more territory to the south of us, will cause many of the South and Central American republics to be voted into the Union by their own people.
There will be No C, X or Q in our every-day alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary.
Mosquitoes, house-flies and roaches will have been practically exterminated… There will be no wild animals except in menageries. Rats and mice will have been exterminated. The horse will have become practically extinct.
A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.
A university education will be free to every man and woman.
Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes… The meal being over, the dishes used will be packed and returned to the cooking establishments where they will be washed… These tubes will collect, deliver and transport mail over certain distances, perhaps for hundreds of miles.
But this selection is hardly fair to Watkins. Some of his predictions were only partly wrong.
Trains will run two miles a minute, normally; express trains one hundred and fifty miles an hour.
High-speed trains are traveling over 300 mph. Just not in the United States.
Automobiles will be cheaper than horses are today.
This is just barely true. In 1900, work horses sold for $225 to $250. Adjusting for inflation, that price is approximately $6400, which will buy a new, low-end, import, budget car.
[The future American] will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present.
In fact, the overall life expectancy in 1900 was 47.8 years. And in 2000, it was 77.
There will probably be from 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 people in America and its possessions by the lapse of another century.
The figure is high, but at least Watkins was guessing in the right direction. America’s population had grown 14000% between 1800 and 1900. If that rate had continued, the total would have exceeded 1 billion in 2000. Instead, it grew just 360%, reaching 280 million at the start of the new century.
Where Watkins was correct, however, he was unusually far-sighted.
Americans will be taller by from one to two inches.
The average American male in 1900 was 66-67” tall. By 2000, the average was 69”.
Photographs will reproduce all of nature’s colors… [They will be transmitted] from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later.
Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn.
Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span.
Rising early to build the furnace fire will be a task of the olden times. Homes will have no chimneys, because no smoke will be created within their walls.
Refrigerators will keep great quantities of food fresh for long intervals.
Fast-flying refrigerators on land and sea will bring delicious fruits from the tropics and southern temperate zone within a few days. The farmers of South America… whose seasons are directly opposite to ours, will thus supply us in winter with fresh summer foods which cannot be grown here.
There is one last peculiarity to Watkins’ article.
Every one of his predictions involved an improvement in the lives of Americans. He saw only positive change in the new century. Today’s predictors don’t see the future so optimistically, but will they see it as clearly as Watkins?
The first decade of the 21st Century ends today. Most Americans, I think, will be glad to see it go. It brought us an unending war on terrorism, a political stalemate in Washington, and a struggling economy that’s left almost all of us poorer. It’s no wonder that Time magazine called this “The Decade of Broken Dreams,” and “The Decade From Hell… the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through [since] the World War.”
The “Aught Years” were so discouraging, Americans have lowered their expectations for the coming decade. The future, once considered a territory of the United States, has become a place we enter with wary caution. We’ve come a long way from the early 20th Century, when the future seemed so inviting, so full of new ideas and opportunities.
That faith in the future is captured in “Around The World In The Twentieth Century” from the December 2, 1899 Post. The author, Arthur P. Greeley, was an expert in new technology, being the Assistant Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office. He saw a future of incredible mobility, in which science would enable Americans to travel swiftly and comfortably across the nation and around the world.
Let us imagine, for the sake of illustration, that it is the year 1950, AD, and that you and I are going on a trip around the world, proposing to accomplish it in twenty-five days— a length of time which, I think, may possibly be sufficient for the purpose at that date.
Of course, no one could circle the globe in 25 days without radically new technology, such as the high-speed electric locomotive he imagined for 1950.
The locomotive resembles… a cannon-shell magnified. In fact, to all intents and purposes it is a projectile, formed to pierce the air as effectively… as possible. Being run by electricity, it has no boiler and no smokestack such as encumbers the old-style “iron horse,” and of course no tender is required for carrying fuel. The engineer and his assistant occupy fairly comfortable quarters inside the body of the engine, and the machinery under their charge is so simple as to require very little attention.
By the mid-century, Greeley enthuses, Americans would travel from New York to San Francisco in just forty hours!
Railways have certainly improved enormously since 1900. See the landscape fly by the car window? We must be going ninety miles an hour at least, and this train, a “limited express,” often “does” one hundred miles an hour for considerable distance.
We left the Eastern metropolis at exactly ten o’clock this morning, Wednesday September 7, and we shall arrive at the Golden Gate at 2 AM on Friday. The distance has been made in thirty-three hours by a special train carrying the President of the United States, but we are ordinary folk, and must be content with an every-day rate of travel.
In his travelogue of the future, Mr. Greeley stops to wander through the “brilliantly lighted streets” of Chicago. “What a wonderful town it is, to be sure! I understand that this year’s census is likely to credit it with a population of nearly six millions.” He is so entranced that he misses his train, but catches up with it by taking a liquid-air taxicab to the next station in Iowa.
The man in charge of the vehicle demands an extortionate price for his services, but we are not in a position to haggle, and so agree to pay him what he asks.
Greeley races across Illinois along a “boulevard one hundred feet in width and lined on both sides with tall poplar trees… brightly illuminated with electric lights. So smoothly does the carriage glide over it on rubber-tired wheels that we seem almost to be flying, and the pace being steadily accelerated, we soon begin to realize that we are actually traveling at a rate exceeding one hundred miles an hour.”
In his vision of 1950, travelers speed across the Pacific on swift ocean liners, race through China, Russia, and Europe by rail, and eventually reach the English Channel, which is now crossed by tunnel!
What an odd sensation it gives one to think that one is actually traveling under so great a body of water! I understand that some old-fashioned people even at this day are afraid to venture through the tunnel for fear lest the water of the sea will break through and drown them. It is certainly the greatest engineering work ever accomplished, this tunnel beneath the English Channel, and I confess that we have nothing in America to approach it.
The Calais-Dover tunnel is one of the few things Greeley got right. Public rail and automotive travel never reached 100 mph. The population of Chicago seems to have peaked at 3 million, not Greeley’s 6. But on one point, he was particularly wrong.
Fifty years ago it was popularly imagined that transportation problems sooner or later would be wholly altered by the invention of dirigible aerial machines, and yet to-day, in 1950, the puzzle of human flight is apparently no nearer to a practical solution than it was then. We have produced flying toys of considerable size and of various patterns, but the dream of the airship to carry men through the atmosphere as vessels sail over the water — an aerostat navigable at will and safe — bears no promise of realization.
Working at the Patent Office, Greeley must have seen hundreds of patent applications for experimental aircraft. They would have been crude, light-framed, underpowered machines, but he should have recognized where things were heading.
We can forgive his “liquid-air automobile.” It’s a minor point. The future can be so unreliable. But he broke the one rule a prophet must always observe: never say something won’t happen. Never rule out a possibility, no matter how improbable. Humans just might learn how to fly. And the American economy just might turn around in 2011.