Christmas in the 1900s

In the first decade of the 1900s, technology was making its influence known, as the automobile rolled onto the roads in earnest and the Wright brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Many Americans shopped by catalog from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, and the toy teddy bear made its first appearance, thanks to a cartoon that showed Theodore Roosevelt sparing the life of a bear.

Your Christmas Budget in the 1900s

Wondering what you might have bought for friends and family at the beginning of the twentieth century? Here are some popular items from the 1900s, with their prices, taken from contemporary newspapers and magazine ads:

  • Men’s smoking jacket: $5.00

  • Women’s corset (“All popular sizes”): $1.59

  • Sheet-music cabinet: $6.25

  • Phonograph: $150.00

  • China candlestick: 50 cents

  • Boys’ worsted sweater: $2.00

  • Toy sewing machine: $1.00

  • Toy automobile “with rubber tire wheels”: $2.50

  • Elevated railroad set: $5.00

  • Clothbound copy of Peck’s Bad Boy: 39 cents

Festive Fact

Peck's Bad Boy was Henry Peck, a fictional boy created by author George Peck. Henry wasn't very enthusiastic about rules, and gained huge popularity around the turn of the century for the pranks that he played. The stories, which appeared in newspapers and books, were even made into movies in the 1920s and 1930s.

In the News in the 1900s

Morgan Celebrates the Season

NEW YORK, December 23—Ten clerks employed by J. Pierpont Morgan are reported to have each received from the banker a present of a $5,000 gold certificate. A messenger for Mr. Morgan drew the bills from the subtreasury.

For the benefit of those who are not on intimate terms with $5,000 gold certificates, it may be explained that they are among the most beautiful examples of the printer’s art. In color they are a most effective blending of orange, black, and green.

—1901 Boston Globe account

An Act of Benevolence

Pay the Boy a Nickel!

To the Editor:

Every person purchasing a paper [on Christmas Eve] should pay the newsboy therefor five cents [instead of the customary two]. The amount will not be missed by the giver and a great good will result.

—Letter appearing in the Boston Globe

A Thought for the Holiday Season

On the seamy side there comes at Christmas a feeling that the word is, to those who are not of the elect, most unkind; and it is the experience of police that most of the injudicious, unlimited drinking . . . is not caused so much by the exuberance of people wanting to celebrate Christmas, as by the efforts of those who would forget.

Boston Globe editorial in support of the growing movement toward prohibition of liquor

Christmas Advertising in the 1900s

Dependable Goods, Fair Prices, and Your Goodwill are responsible for the throngs which have filled out stores and the marked enthusiasm displayed during these Xmas holidays. Although the buying has been beyond expectation and our assortments are yet complete, still each day makes a large hole in the stock. In order not to carry over Xmas Goods, from now on goods will be marked at prices that will be simply irresistible. Come and profit during these last two days.

—Gilchrist Department Store advertisement

A Poem Suitable for the Season

The merry halls may jingle in the good, old-fashioned way; In merriment we mingle, with the music holding sway.The “Gloria in Excelsis” is sounding everywhere.But, really, tisn’t Christmas, if Mother isn’t there.

She hangs a newer halo round the mistletoe on high; A spirit of bravado drew away the weary sigh— For sorrow is no mistress, and life lets go its fear Amid the joys of Christmas, when Mother, dear, is here.

The fire upon the hearthstone lights up with ruddier glow; The laughter is more mirthsome, bubbling forth in frolic flow; The Christ Child truly comes to us, in all His heavenly cheer, If the advent of old Christmas finds Mother, also, here.

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