What technology changes did your ancestors see?
What technology changes have you seen?
Did your family own one of those early changes? – such as television
Do you like or dislike technology?
What do you think has been the best technological change in your lifetime and historically?
What technology changes did your ancestors see? Of course, it depends on which ancestor you choose to focus on. For today, I'm going to focus on my Dad's father, Oscar Alexander Huneycutt who was born 12/26/1898 and died 1/15/1976 at the age of 77 yrs old.
Oscar Alexander Huneycutt was born in Anson County, NC to William Eli and Eva Malinda Boon Huneycutt. But he spent his whole life in Stanly County, NC. In the 1900 U.S. Census William Eli, his wife and Toddler Papa were actually living with William Eli's older brother, Alexander "Alex" McKinley Huneycutt, and his wife, Nannie Scarborough Huneycutt, and their first 3 children. Many times families did this so they could double up on the work and make enough to get started on their own. The farm they were working was rented which probably meant they were sharecropping. I.e. they would share the crop with the owner of the land. You can imagine putting in all that work and having to divide it 3 ways and support 2 families. And it must have been a little crowded in the typical sharecroppers cabin with 4 adults and 4 children.
My Papa was 2 years old when the century turned over. I'm sure he didn't remember that New Year's Eve. There were probably no parties, fireworks displays, champagne. Being on the farm in North Carolina, they probably had a kerosene lantern or candles and were early to bed. It seems that New Year's Eve was on a Sunday and my family were devout so I'm sure they went to church unless someone was sick. People attended the closest church to their home. So if you were Baptist, you went to the closest Baptist church. And that's where you joined and stayed until you died or moved somewhere else. There wasn't church shopping in those days like there is today. It was a practical, logistical matter. If you had to walk or hitch up a wagon or buggy and drive to church then you went to the closest church to your home. And it was where your neighbors would be too.
When they woke up that Monday morning to a new century, I'm sure it was early. Probably still dark outside. The parents started the wood stove for heat and breakfast. Papa was the eldest of their 6 children. He wouldn't have a sibling until 12/27/1900 when his first sister was born, Clara May Huneycutt. She wouldn't survive and died not quite a year later. The next child would be twins, Allie and Dallie, born in 1903. Grover Cleveland, Papa's little brother, would be born in 1905 and the baby of the family, Vernia May, would be born in 1908 when Papa was 10 yrs old. Vernia was mentally handicapped (not Down's Syndrome but something else). She lived with her parents until their death and then she spent time with her siblings and, finally, in a home for the mentally handicapped. But she was well taken care of and was part of our family get togethers. Eva Malinda Boon Huneycutt was 25 yrs old when she had Papa and was 35 yrs old when she had Vernia so Vernia wasn't a late pregnancy. I've often wondered what Vernie's problem was and what was the cause. Was it something that modern medicine could have prevented?
Back to the morning routine, I remember my Grandma (Papa's wife, Vivian Mae Barnes Huneycutt) getting up early. Papa fetched wood from the woodshed and water from the old well. She would start the wood stove which was on one end of the kitchen and do most of her cooking on it despite having an electric range on the other end of the kitchen! Yes, they had built a newer little farm house when my Dad, their youngest child, was in high school. It had the modern convenience of an indoor bathroom, indoor plumbing, new well with well pump, electricity and screens on the windows. But they still did things the old way that they had learned from their families. They preferred the water from their old well which meant you used a bucket on a rope and a winch. I can't say that I blamed them. Their new well had such hard water that it rusted every fixture they had although I'm sure it was the same water because they were only maybe 50' apart. LOL! They kept a dipper by the well and the girls and I were fascinated by drawing water and drinking from the dipper. Yes, a communal dipper! They also kept one hanging over the sink in the kitchen, a communal water glass but it was a dipper. On hot summer days, Grandma used the electric stove. All other times of the year, she still used her wood stove until she got too old to manage getting the wood and water in. She was proficient at making a huge breakfast every morning for us. I don't know if she always made such large breakfasts when we weren't around but I would think so because it gave them the energy to do the hard work they had to do for the day.
So I would assume Great Grandma Eva Malinda Boon Huneycutt was somewhat the same. I'm sure she and Great Grandpa William Eli Huneycutt got up early and started their day with getting wood and water. She cranked up the wood stove and started making breakfast. My Grandma made a pan of biscuits every morning along with scrambled eggs, bacon AND sausage, grits and red eye gravy and coffee. They had deep saucers with their coffee cups and many times I watched my Papa pour his light, sweet coffee in the saucer, blow on it and drink it from the saucer. This wasn't unusual at the time and was not considered bad manners like it would be today. And if you consider that red eye gravy is nothing but bacon/sausage grease with coffee poured in it, it's a wonder they didn't all die of high cholesterol! They didn't waste anything back then. So maybe little Toddler Papa learned his coffee drinking habit from his father and/or mother.
Either before or after breakfast, they had animals to tend to. Pigs to be slopped, chickens to be fed, watered, eggs collected and washed, horses and/or mules to be fed. Cows to be fed and milked. And then the long day of farming and/or blacksmithing began.
Blacksmithing is a virtually obsolete handicraft now, an art that is practiced by few. You have Farriers to take care of shoeing horses now. But blacksmithing included shoeing horses, making nails, making wagon rims, repairing wagons, making plows, etc. And it was labor intensive. You can enjoy seeing blacksmithing done at historical festivals, re-enactments or see a set up at many historical parks. It's really nice to watch the men work the metal into things. We've seen them at the Cowpens Battle Re-enactment, the Walnut Grove Battle Re-enactment, etc. But metalworking has come a long way since those days of rural blacksmiths.
Let's take a quick look at some of the Industrial Revolution breakthroughs that changed farming life forever:
Eli Whitney was the inventor of the cotton gin and a pioneer in the mass production of cotton. He graduated from Yale College in 1792. By April 1793, Whitney had designed and constructed the cotton gin, a machine that automated the separation of cottonseed from the short-staple cotton fiber. The cotton gin revolutionized the cotton industry in the United States. Prior to his invention, farming cotton required hundreds of man-hours to separate the cottonseed from the raw cotton fibers. Simple seed-removing devices have been around for centuries, however, Eli Whitney's invention automated the seed separation process. His machine could generate up to fifty pounds of cleaned cotton daily, making cotton production profitable for the southern states. Eli Whitney and his business partner Phineas Miller had decided to get into the ginning business themselves. They manufactured as many cotton gins as possible and installed them throughout Georgia and the southern states. They charged farmers an unusual fee for doing the ginning for them, two-fifths of the profits paid in cotton itself. So planters began making their own versions of Eli Whitney's gin and claiming they were "new" inventions.
In 1837, John Deere, blacksmith and inventor, had little more than a blacksmith shop, a piece of discarded polished steel, and an idea that would help farmers. He fashions a polished-steel plow in his Grand Detour, Illinois, blacksmith shop that lets pioneer farmers cut clean furrows through sticky Midwest prairie soil. In 1848 , the growing plow business moves to Moline, Illinois, 75 miles southwest of Grand Detour. Moline offers water power and transportation advantages. Deere chooses a new partner, Robert N. Tate, who moves to Moline and raises the rafters on their three-story blacksmith shop by July 28. In 1852, Deere buys out his partners. For the next 16 years, the company is known variously as John Deere, John Deere & Company, Deere and Company, and Moline Plow Manufactory. John's son, Charles Deere, was an outstanding businessman who established marketing centers, called branch houses, to serve the network of independent retail dealers. By the time of Charles Deere's death in 1907, the company was making a wide range of steel plows, cultivators, corn and cotton planters, and other implements. In 1918, the company purchased the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company in Waterloo, Iowa, and tractors became an important part of the John Deere line. manufactured the popular Waterloo Boy Tractor at its facilities in Waterloo, Iowa. Deere & Company continued to sell tractors under the Waterloo Boy name until 1923. Deere management decided to build a Model D prototype in 1923, designed by Muir L. Frey (father of Ford Mustang designer Donald N. Frey). The Deere Model D was produced from March 1, 1923 to July 3, 1953, the longest production span of all the two-cylinder John Deere tractors. Over 160,000 were made.
Small grains had been harvested by hand for centuries, cut with sickles or scythes, hand-raked and tied into sheaves. Grain harvesting machines first appeared in Great Britain in about 1800, and in the U.S. a decade or two later, but most failed. Obed Hussey and Cyrus McCormick developed successful reapers during the 1830s. McCormick's machine became the more popular one; today he is credited with inventing the reaper. When grain was being cut by hand, the method for separating the kernels from the straw was equally slow and labor intensive. Grain was hauled to a barn where it was spread on a threshing floor and either beaten with hand flails or trampled by animals. That knocked the kernels free of the straw, which was then raked away. The remaining mixture was winnowed by tossing it into the air where the wind was relied upon to blow the chaff and lighter debris away from the heavier grain, which fell back onto the threshing floor. The first threshing machine with a revolving, toothed cylinder and concaves was invented in 1786 in Scotland by Andrew Meikle. Brothers Hiram and John Pitts are credited with invention of the first successful American separator in 1830.
Until the end of the 18th century, American farmers relied primarily upon their own strong backs and arms and those of family members, hired men or slaves. New farm machines, then being developed, required more power, so oxen, horses and mules were pressed into service. Stationary steam engines were used early on to run cotton gins and mills. The additional power required by improved threshing machines led to the development of portable steam power, which made its first appearance in 1849. At first, horses were used to haul portable steam engines from job to job. During the 1870s, several inventors developed practical drive systems and the self-propelled steam traction engine became common
By the 1920s the steam traction engine was on it's way out, but it paved the way for the gasoline tractors that followed. Although a "traveling thrasher" (or combined harvester-thresher) was patented as early as 1828, the first successful machine was built by Hiram Moore in 1834. Moore's combine successfully cut and threshed grain, although it had to be winnowed later. After the Civil War, big horse-drawn, ground-driven combines were developed in the wheat-growing regions of the Northwest. In 1871, B.F. Cook put a steam engine on a combine to drive the mechanism, decreasing the number of horses needed to pull the machine. In about 1886, California farmer George Berry built a combine around a steam traction engine and voilà: the first self-propelled combine.
The rise of the automobile gave us the truck. Trucks to haul produce and animals became essential tools and still are whether they are pickups or transfer trailer trucks. Along with this, the invention of rubber tires for tractors, automobiles and trucks was essential. The first tractors has steel wheels and made for a "bumpy ride". And, of course, the canal and river system was replaced by the railroad and now by the Interstate superhighways.
Let's take a breath and become thoughtful for a minute. Just think how for thousands of years, farming had been done the same way. Very little inventiveness existed for the farmer. As labor intensive as farming is, it took a lot of hands to produce what they could. It's why slavery was invented... cheap labor. Sounds like today doesn't it? But really, it was just that, cheap labor. If farmers were going to supply food for their families and enough product to sell, it took a lot of working hands doing back breaking work. Just like today, we try to invest our money in tools that will make our work more efficient and produce more product to sell so we can make more money. But back then, their only tools were extra hands. So if they had extra money to "invest", they invested it in buying slaves who would help them work the farms, take care of the home, help raise the children and take care of you in your old age. Investing in slaves was a business decision AND an investment for your old age future sort of like our 401k's, pensions and social security are today. I'm certainly not saying that slavery was a good thing. It was not! Horrible abuse occurred and we paid for it with a bloody civil war. But maybe you can see how it got to be where it was.
So, as I said, things hadn't changed for thousands of years until the 1800's when the Industrial Revolution began. Men began to come up with inventions and the political and economic tides were such that these inventions could make them money. We all know that money is the motivator. If they didn't think they would make money on their inventions, they wouldn't waste their time inventing. In school, most children just roll their eyes and hunch down at their desks when the term "Industrial Revolution" comes out of the teacher's mouth. But if we really thought about the changes it brought we would be stunned.
Great Grandpa William Eli was probably still a horse or mule farmer which meant hitching up a plow to your horse(s) or mule(s) and walking behind it every step of the way as you plowed the ground. Plows were an improvement over hand turning the soil and hoeing it but still an exhausting and tedious job. Then came the planting. You had to plant foods for your family to consume, food for your farm animals to consume and product to be sold. The cash crop was usually cotton or tobacco in Stanly County, NC. Both are labor intensive crops which is farm-ese for HARD WORK! William Eli Huneycutt had no slaves, his father had no slaves, his grandfather had no slaves so he knew hard work intimately.
Papa grew up in this atmosphere. In fact, he and Grandma had bought a small working farm in Stanly County, NC before the Great Depression. He owed $300 on it when the stockmarket crashed and the banks began calling in the loans. The bank would want his land so it could be sold for a profit and give them some of their cash back. He was in real trouble. Thank God, a friend loaned him the $300 to pay off the mortgage and he paid that man back every cent. During the Great Depression, Papa would hire himself and his 2 mules out for a day's work for 25 - 50 CENTS a day! He never borrowed money or financed anything again. He did everything in cash. He finally got his brand new John Deere tractor close to the end of WWII. My Dad still has that tractor and remembers well the day it was delivered to the farm!
So Papa had gone from horse and wagons and handplowing behind a horse or mule to automobiles and tractors. He went from drawing water from the well to an electric pump that brought water straight to the house through their indoor plumbing. He had gone from wood stoves to electric stoves and oil heat. He had gone from screenless windows to screened-in windows to air conditioning.
According to the 1930 U.S. Census Papa didn't own a radio set so he went from no radio, to radio entertainment to television and movies. Movies on the big screen! I can only imagine the fascination a young person would have had for the movies when it was so new. We are used to it today and we expect better and better special effects, high definition, surround sound and 3D. But when it was all new, it must have been something.
He went from having no telephone to having a telephone. I remember he and Grandma had an old black telephone, the same heavy one lasted them from the time they installed it until they died! Unlike today's phones which have to be replaced frequently. It was heavy and well made and never gave them a moment's trouble. And Papa and Grandma were on a party line. I remember picking up the phone as a little girl and hearing other people talking on the line. It was like accidentally walking into someone's home. They finally got a private line and had to pay extra for the privilege. And I remember the short telephone number they had until so many people got phones they had to isue longer numbers like the ones we have today with area codes. The first cell phone was a bag phone that had a battery the size of a car battery. My Mom paid $2500 for that phone and the coverage was awful! They we went to car phones that were installed in cars and used the car batteries. Then back to bag phones but these were smaller, more the size of a purse. Then you got the heavy handheld phone, the flip phone, and now the smart phones. So Papa lived during an exciting time as the first cell phones were installed in cars in the early 1970's. They were rarely seen being so expensive but they were available before he died.
Man had been trying to fly for hundreds of years but the first flight by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, NC occurred in 1908 and then it was just for a few seconds. By the time Papa died in 1976 he could have flown on a jet plane. And the first man who landed on the moon was Neil Armstrong in 1969. So Papa had lived through the era from thinking the moon was made of cheese to a man actually walking on the moon and coming back to tell of it!
The Z1 computer, originally created by Germany's Konrad Zuse in his parents living room in 1936 to 1938 and is considered to be the first electro-mechanical binary programmable (modern) computer and really the first functional computer. The Colossus was the first electric programmable computer and was developed by Tommy Flowers and first demonstrated in December 1943. The Colossus was created to help the British code breakers read encrypted German messages. The Atanasoff-Berry Computer, known as the ABC, started being developed by Professor John Vincent Atanasoff and graduate student Cliff Berry in 1937 and continued to be developed until 1942 at the Iowa State College (now Iowa State University). The ABC was an electrical computer that used vacuum tubes for digital computation including binary math and Boolean logic and had no CPU. On October 19, 1973, the US Federal Judge Earl R. Larson signed his decision that the ENIAC patent by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly was invalid and named Atanasoff the inventor of the electronic digital computer. The ENIAC was invented by J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly at the University of Pennsylvania and began construction in 1943 and was not completed until 1946. It occupied about 1,800 square feet and used about 18,000 vacuum tubes, weighing almost 50 tons. Although the Judge ruled that the ABC computer was the first digital computer, many still consider the ENIAC to be the first digital computer because it was fully functional. First delivered to the United States Government in 1950, the UNIVAC 1101 or ERA 1101 is considered to be the first computer that was capable of storing and running a program from memory. On April 7, 1953 IBM publicly introduced the 701, its first electric computer and first mass produced computer. Later IBM introduced its first personal computer called the IBM PC in 1981. In 1968, Hewlett Packard began marketing the first mass-marketed PC and the first desktop computer, the HP 9100A.
So Papa went from paper and ink to a computer age. He barely missed the introduction of the first IBM personal computer in 1981. I remember it and had one soon afterwards and have had one ever since! My first computer had 2 floppy disk drives. My 2nd one had 10 mb of hard drive space. I love my computers and the Internet.
And this doesn't count the medical revolutions that have taken place. Where babies were once birthed at home, now they are born in hospitals. Instead of people using folk remedies, there was actual medicine, surgical techniques, medical technologies. It seemed to explode after the War of Northern Aggression. Up until then, the typical American knew nothing about germs, hygiene, what caused diseases and plagues. Papa lived through the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919 when he would have been 20 yrs old. I'm his granddaughter and if I had been born at any other time in history I would not have lived very long but because of medical technologies, I have been able to live and have a good quality of life compared to what people had before.
When I look at what my Papa saw in his own lifetime, it amazes me. As I've said, thousands of years saw little change in how the farmer lived his life, grew his crops and provided for his family until the middle 1800's. For the next 150 years technology exploded and changed the human experience forever. We also suffered the War of Northern Aggression, the Spanish American War of 1898, WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War and the modern wars since the 1990's. We have seen more human beings murdered in purges, wars, genocide, starvations, and just pure evil than any previous generation of mankind. How do human beings adjust to such rapid change? With my Papa and Grandma, they just put one foot in front of the other. Some things they kept doing the old way and some things they saw the value of doing it the new way and would take it up. Papa learned to drive, he bought a tractor. After he died, Grandma took a driving class and learned to drive herself. They had an old black and white television and watched As The World Turns religiously. In fact, Papa would come in for lunch and lay down to watch ATWT and take a short nap. My Dad still does this today. I remember how Grandma would take this quiet time to string beans, peel peaches, hem a skirt or something useful while watching the soap opera. But one day, while Papa took his nap, he quietly died in his sleep. Grandma noticed he was sleeping longer than normal and when she went to wake him, he was gone. What a shock it was to her.
If you ever wonder why your parents still do some things the old way, just remember it was what they were raised in and are comfortable with. But they've come a long way since their parent's and their grandparent's days.