Twentieth century begins in Washington state on January 1, 1901.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 12/29/1999
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2011

On January 1, 1901, the arrival of the twentieth century is marked in Washington as it is around the world. At the time, most people -- or at least the majority of those publishing or speaking on the issue -- calculate that a new century begins in a year ending in 1 rather than one ending in zero, noting that what is then called the Christian Era ( and will later be called the Common Era to reflect the diversity of religions) is deemed to have begun in the year 1. As such, its first century would not be complete until the year 100, with the second century beginning in the year 101, and so on through the nineteenth century ending at the end of 1900, and the twentieth century beginning on January 1, 1901. This reasoning also means that the twenty-first century technically would not begin until January 1, 2001, but 99 years later, Washington and virtually the entire world will celebrate the arrival of the twenty-first century, and the new millennium, on January 1, 2000.

Many publications around Washington on January 1, 1901, had a section devoted to the turn of the century, usually on the editorial page, containing thoughts and observations on the day's events. This entry compiles comments, most taken from Seattle and King County editorial pages, on the beginning of the twentieth century and the new year. The comments here were taken from two Seattle daily papers (the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Seattle Times), three weeklies (The Argus, the African American newspaper The Seattle Republican, and The Seattle Mail and Herald), a union paper (Union Record), a Socialist paper (The Socialist), and a newspaper published in the town of Kent (White River Journal).

Jottings, Comments, Thoughts

"The first day, of the first month, in the first year, in the twentieth century, is here" (The Seattle Times, January 1, 1901, p. 6).

"Start the new year with a paid-up [union] working card" (Union Record [Seattle], January 5, 1901, p. 4 ).

"The New Year crept in softly, with a new white mantle to throw over the city, as though to cover old errors, old offenses, old crimes, old failures, and bid us all begin anew. Let us take the hint of the New Year" (The Seattle Times, January 1, 1901, p. 6).

"The nineteenth century has had its walking papers" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 1, 1901, p 4).

"All of them are now twentieth century girls" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 1, 1901, p. 4).

"Happy New Year, and many of them" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 1, 1901, p. 4).

"The last steamer of the century to come down from Alaska brought gold from a new digging. That's the proper spirit" (The Seattle Times, January 1, 1901, p. 6).

"It is again in order to bring into use those resolutions of last January, which were intended for the year, but were forsaken about one week after they were made" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 1, 1901, p. 4).

"With the opening of the century, general peace seems to prevail in all parts of the country with the exception of Clay county, Kentucky" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 2, 1901, p. 4).

"Those who watched the 'new year in' did something which they will never do again. They witnessed the 'birth of a century'" (The Seattle Times, January 1, 1901, p. 6).

Time Plods

"Time will celebrate its nineteen hundredth anniversary next Tuesday. It may seem to plod along at a distressingly slow gait, yet no one will deny the fact but that it gets there" (The Seattle Republican, December 28, 1900, p. 2).

"The new century opens auspiciously for Seattle. The battleship, the library and the subsidy indicate that Seattle is still first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of her citizens" (Seattle Mail and Herald, January 12, 1901, p. 8).

"No Item of Police. The good which follows New Year's resolutions is possibly responsible for the fact that there was not an item for the police reporter to chronicle at the police station today" (The Seattle Times, January 1, 1901, p. 4).

"The annual swear-offs and the century swear-offs can join issues and next Monday the century swear-offs can swear off for a century, and next Tuesday the annual swear-offs can swear off for another day" (The Seattle Republican, December 28, 1900, p. 2).

"The century opens with a desire on the part of Congress to increase expenses alarmingly. The American people can be depended on to bring that body back into economical lines" (The Seattle Times, January 1, 1901, p. 6).

"New Year and New Century can be enjoyed next Tuesday. Crookedness among Seattle's official blue coats has begun to slowly but surely leak out. 'Murder will out'" (The Seattle Republican, December 28, 1900, p. 2).

Some Means of Visiting Other Planets?

"Will the inventive genius of the present century devise some means of visiting the other planets? is one of the puzzles that is not being realily [sic] solved by the scientists at present" (The Seattle Republican, December 28, 1900, p. 2).

"A new library, a new city hall, a new government building, a new union depot, and a new battle ship. These are some of the things that will be started in Seattle in 1901" (The Argus [Seattle], January 12, 1901, p. 1).

"THE SOCIALIST CENTURY NOW BEGINS! Karl Marx Its Prophet the Wonderful Prediction and Scientific Analysis of the Present Age Written 53 Years Ago This Month" (The Socialist [Seattle], January 6, 1901, p. 3).

Whoops!

"The ARGUS forgot last week to wish its readers a Happy New Year. A careful perusal of its exchanges shows that this was the only paper in the country that made such a serious omission. If the 22,349 subscribers of this paper will forgive us, we will try and not be guilty of such rudeness again" (The Argus [Seattle], January 5, 1901, p. 1).

"Every whistle, bell, and gun in Seattle greeted the New Year to the full strength of its noisy power. The hour of midnight was clear, the night air still and cold. The result was that the entire city heard what it already knew, that a new Year was born" (The Seattle Times, January 1, 1901, p. 6).

"The only war going on at the opening of the century is the one which Lord Roberts brought to a close a few weeks ago" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 1, 1901, p. 4). [In 1899, the Boers of South Africa were defeating British forces stationed there. Lord Roberts replaced the previous British commander and reversed the British fortunes. The Boers surrender in 1902.].

"[T]he new century has begun, and begun in a flame of glory. The world for the most part is at peace. While nationalities may be commercially jealous of each other, it does not run to the extent of wanting to wage war with each other. There is a spirit of peace and good will to all men and to all nations throughout the entire world, irrespective of race, color or condition" (The Seattle Republican, January 4, 1901, p. 1).

"One hundred years ago people were asking the same question that comes once more to this office: 'What century are we living in?' We supposed that this straw was threshed out completely a year ago. Since 12 o'clock last night we have been living in the twentieth century. Now let the subject sleep for another hundred years" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 1, 1901, p. 4).

The Seattle Republican, published by African American Seattleites, had this to say about the progress of blacks:

"One hundred years ago Negroes in this country were slaves, and of course penniless, but now they own property within the United States almost equal to the entire value of the eleven Southern States in which they were formerly held as slaves. Such progress on the part of illiterate people, an 'inferior race' at that, is deserving of the most favorable commendation on the part of the 'superior race'" (The Seattle Republican, December 28, 1900, p. 2).

"Colonel McKee at the Horseshoe [Saloon] gave his patrons very unique little souvenirs on Christmas day. They are in the form of the full dinner pail, inscribed 'Merry Christmas and Prosperity for the Twentieth Century,' and contains a sample of the excellent liquor dispensed at Seattle's most elegant saloon. The new Horseshoe, at 703 First avenue" (The Argus [Seattle], December 29, 1900, p. 1).

"[D]espite the bickerings of the pessimists, the twentieth century was ushered into existence. For a number of months during the past year, would-be scientists, as well as scholarly persons in this country, have protested that the twentieth century had already begun in January, 1900. That such an assertion was absurd in the extreme every man and woman in the country with any educational qualifications were willing to bear witness against" (The Seattle Republican, January 4, 1901, p. 1).

"SEATTLE BEGINS THE CENTURY. The beginning of a century is a thing few people are permitted to participate in, however much they may desire the privilege, more than a single time. Therefore the people, because it is a high-water mark in their lives, have made much ado regarding the opening of this present new year and century; and have apparently, been anxious to get off, so to speak on the right foot." [Here there is a discussion on Moran Shipyards receiving a federal contract to construct a battleship, Carnegie donating 200,000 to build a library, and an announcement that the Denny Hotel will be completed.] Truly, Seattle's most ardent advocate can not object to the manner in which she has begun the 20th century" (Seattle Mail and Herald, January 12, 1901, p. 1).

"THE STRUGGLE OF THE CENTURY. There can be no such thing as liberty as applied to the individual citizen, when all he secures through his individual efforts is taken from him by organized capital. Organized capital controls the governments of the civilized world, and the control will have to be transferred to the any before the enjoyment of liberty and individual rights can be protected ... The contention before the nineteenth century was to secure individual rights in connection with liberty, and the contention in the future will be to protect individual rights secured in connection with liberty" (Union Record [Seattle], January 19, 1901, p. 5).

Progress of African Americans

In early January, the African American newspaper again reflected on the progress of blacks:

"New Year's day, which marked the thirty-eighth anniversary of the freedom of the Negroes of this country, was quite generally celebrated by them throughout the United States. When the Negro was emancipated in 1863, he was started out without money, means or education. [I]t was very generally conceded that at the time of his emancipation, $1,000 would have covered the entire possessions of the four million Negroes that were set free.

"But January, 1901, the beginning of a new century, finds a far different state of affairs existing among them than did January, 1863. In other words, the century, or that part of the century in which they enjoyed as citizens, has been a most productive one, so far as they are concerned, as it wrought some mighty changes in their condition, for there are now within the United States 32,000 colored teachers, 2,000 colored lawyers, 15,000 colored physicians, churches numbering 19,999, with a seating capacity of 6,000,000. Besides this, the colored people receive more money as wage earners than any other distinct class in the United States; through their own efforts colored people support seven colleges, nineteen academies, five high schools, twenty-five theological seminaries. And all of this has been accomplished in thirty-eight years" (The Seattle Republican, January 11, 1901, p. 1).

The Day of Days

"We naturally look upon this day [January 1, 1901] as the day of days. It is not only the first day of a new year, but it is the first day of a new century.

"Standing on the threshold of this new period of time, we naturally strain our eyes and ears to catch the import of its mission. What will it bring to us? Will human life be advanced on up through its year as it has been during the century that has passed? Who can tell?

"It has been said that our moral growth has not kept pace with our material growth. This is plainly evident. As one looks back over the years that have passed it is easy to realize something of the height in material progress to which this people has attained, and yet we cannot see ahead well enough to tell whether we shall continue to climb or if we are now on the crest of an immense wave in the sea of time on which nations float, to descend again into a long low trough from whence it will take us another century to come forth.

"Wealth is a beautiful thing when it is for all men, when its power is used to lift all to a higher plane of life; but when it is controlled by a few and its power is used against the many who have produced it, it becomes a hideous monster, a very dragon of destruction.

"Our advancement through the period of the hundred years which has its inception today will be upward or downward according to the way we treat each other as men, according as we shall understand and live up to the obligation of one to another in the moral sense.

"If we shall rise with virtue and industry side by side, there can be no end to the heights we may attain. But if rivalry and love for power shall make us unjust, we shall fall, and the sun at the end of this century shall shine upon another flag floating over this land we now call our own" (Seattle Mail and Herald, January 5, 1901, p. 3).

The Rush and Push of this Age

"The nineteenth century can truthfully be said to have made more advancement from a scientific and commercial standpoint than all the centuries combined since the birth of Christ, and thus left easy sailing for the twentieth. Whether or not the improvements that have been brought into operation during the nineteenth century are of more real value over and above the methods that were used in the eighteenth century is a question. In the rush and push of this age, new inventions are brought to light and then newer inventions are brought to light, and the one is soon discarded for the other, without the former having its real merits thoroughly tested.

"Whether man could not have accomplished more with less scientific improvements and more useful improvements, as was the case a century ago, is a very debatable question. We fly through space at a hundred miles an hour, and we talk with our friends hundreds and thousands of miles from us as though they were in our presence, and a hundred and one other inventions equally as startling might be mentioned, but do they bring real happiness?

"What the present century will bring forth, what will be accomplished in 100 years, what science will have startled the world with in 100 years more, what the complete summary of human investigation will be during the twentieth century, is of all the debatable of debatable questions" (The Seattle Republican, January 4, 1901, p. 1).


Sources:

The Seattle Times, January 1, 1901, p. 4, 6; Union Record (Seattle), January 5, 1901, p. 4; January 19, 1901, p. 5; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 1, 1901, p. 4; The Seattle Republican, December 28, 1900, p. 2; January 4, 1901, p, 1; January 11, 1901, p. 1; Seattle Mail and Herald, January 5, 1901, p. 3; January 12, 1901, p. 1, 8; The Argus (Seattle), January 5, 1901, p. 1; January 12, 1901, p. 1; The Socialist (Seattle), January 6, 1901, p. 3; White River Journal (Kent), January 6, 1900 p. 2; Eric Sorenson, "After a Lot of Fretting, the Country Does Just Fine," The Seattle Times, January 1, 2000, p. A-1; "A New Year, New Millennium," Ibid., January 1, 2000, p. A-25.
Note: This entry was revised and updated on March 15, 2019.


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