My first read everyday in the Cadillac News is the “Today in history” feature. In this, the News picks three historical articles that were printed in the paper on a given day. One item always dates back one hundred years ago and I find those particularly interesting. 


Just recently I learned that in 1920 city officials warned residents not to throw ashes into the street because it ruins sleighing conditions. There was also a report about a business selling illegal “hootch” in downtown Cadillac. Then there was a piece about men who had brought home strange rocks from Russia after WWI and later found out they were platinum. One ex-soldier in Harrietta had $18,000 worth (in a time when $200 was a common yearly income). 


Anyway, as we close the books on 2020, this got me wondering about life in the 1920s. So, I went to that Interweb thingy for some research. What I uncovered was interesting. 


To begin, in the 1920s the average life expectancy for men was 47 years. Needless to say, we live a lot longer today. The current life expectancy for U.S. in 2020 is 78.93. In Michigan the average is 78.3. Local expectancies and rankings (out of 83 counties) are revealing. For males: Missaukee 76.46 (41), Osceola 76.05 (52), Wexford 76.98 (57), Lake (74.59 (77). For females: Missaukee 80.68 (46), Osceola 80.52 (54), Wexford  79.80 (73), Lake 79.38 (80). If you want to live the longest move to Leelanau County (81.4 and 84.8). (


Obviously, staying healthy was more difficult in the 1920s. Only fourteen percent of homes had a bathtub. Most women washed their hair once a month and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo. More than ninety-five percent of all births took place at home. Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were available over counter at local drugstores. Ninety percent of all doctors had no college education. The five leading causes of death were: pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease, and stroke. Since people died young, it's no wonder that there was neither a Mother's Day nor Father's Day. (


All that ill health is bad news, but the good news is that in 1920 there were only “about 230 reported murders in the entire U.S.A.” That's not many compared with FBI statistics for 2019 when there were 16,425 reported murders. (


Contrasts between then and now are also a bit mind-boggling. Combining some 1920s information with 2020 information from Emerging Tech Brew I came up with these. 


In the 1920s two out of every 10 adults couldn't read or write and only six percent of all Americans had graduated from high school. Only eight percent of homes had a telephone. Now in 2020, twenty-one percent of U.S. adults regularly wear a smartwatch, nineteen percent of U.S. adults have bought or tried a virtual reality headset and surveillance cameras can be found in nearly thirty percent of smart homes in the U.S. 


On the roads in the 1920s, fuel for cars was sold in drug stores only. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph. Today, eighteen percent of Americans would put their name on an autonomous vehicle waitlist.


As for the employment picture, in the 1920s the average wage was twenty-two cents per hour and the average worker made between $200 and $400 per year. Today it is estimated by 2025, 148 million “jobs of the future” (software development, cloud, AI, privacy, etc.) will be created.  (


Comparisons aside, some items about life in the 1920s are fun to know. Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee was fifteen cents a pound. The American flag had 45 stars. The population of Las Vegas , Nevada was only 30. Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn't been invented yet. The most popular boy's name of the decade was Robert; for girls, it was Mary. Band-Aids hit the scene. And Baby Ruth candy bars came out  (named after Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland).


Finally, as we head into the NFL playoffs in a couple of weeks (minus the Lions of course), sports fans might like to know that football was big in the 1920s. Related the this, Detroit's WWJ radio (AM 950) was the first station in the country to broadcast a play-by-play sports broadcast.


What did those games look like. Some films survive and you can watch them thanks to present day Youtube. “If there’s one thing Michiganders love, it’s their sports teams. From the Tigers to the Lions to the Wolverines and Spartans, Michigan sports fans take their loyalties seriously. This sports obsession is nothing new, though – Michiganders have been enjoying athletic events for over a century.” Rare footage offers a unique look into Michigan’s sports culture during the 1920s. Watch at:


Films include a University of Michigan practice session, a 1923 game by the team now known as Michigan State Spartans (but at the time was known by its original name: Michigan Agricultural College), and the UM vs. Ohio State 1926 game. Also included are clips from other sports like bowling, Tigers baseball and golf. 


So, now it's onward. Let's hope that one hundred years from now when someone opens a copy of the Cadillac Galactic News the year 2021 will be fondly remembered. 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and