A list of fun facts about the year 1915 in America has gone viral. But many items on the list are false or misleading. As we’ve seen time and again, never trust the internet for your fun facts. It’s all lies.
The list has been passed around for years, getting updated with little more than the year they’re talking about. For example, here’s the exact same list claiming stats from 1902 and from 1906, published in 2002 and 2006, naturally.
Below we’ve done a little fact-checking on this old 1915 list. And I suspect the whole thing is one long game of Chinese Whispers, originally started on a photocopying machine by coke-addled amateur historians at some Christmas party in 1985.
So without further ado, the list of “facts” about 1915 in bold:
The average life expectancy for men was 47 years.
Aside from the fact that most sources claim that average life expectancy for men was around 54 in 1915, historical life expectancy numbers are often skewed dramatically by infant mortality rates. If you made it through adolescence, there’s a good chance that you lived well beyond 54.
Fuel for cars was sold in drug stores only.
Yes, service stations were rare, and didn’t really become common until the 1920s. But petrol was sold in a number of different locations in 1915, not just drug stores. That being said, there was relatively little use for petrol service stations before 1915. For one thing, steam and electric cars were still incredibly popular. And fewer than 1 in 10 American adults had a car in 1915. But once car ownership exploded in the 1920s, so did service stations. You can read more about the pre-history of service stations in this 2006 paper by Marc Melaina.
Only 14 per cent of the homes had a bathtub.
I couldn’t find exact stats, but this sounds about right if you’re talking about bathtubs with running water. Bathtubs with running water were definitely a luxury even into the 1920s.
Only 8 per cent of the homes had a telephone.
According to the book American Standards of Living by Clair Brown, roughly a quarter of working class American families had a phone by 1915. And 46 per cent of families with salaried employees (read: middle and upper middle class) had a telephone. That would put the overall average at well over 8 per cent.
The maximum speed limit in most cities was 16km/h.
If we assume that the speed limit they’re talking about is for automobiles, this is correct. But the earliest speed limits weren’t just for motorised vehicles.
The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
The average US wage in 1910 was $US0.22 per hour.
Sure, and that was about $US5.25 adjusted for inflation. But why are you talking about 1910? I thought this about 1915. Oh, right, this list never gets updated.
The average US worker made between $US200 and $US400 per year.
There was a huge discrepancy based both on sex and race. Men were making an average of about $US687 per year, or just over $US16,000 in today’s dollars. Women made about half that on average, so these numbers actually seem too low.
A competent accountant could expect to earn $US2000 per year.
According to the book American Standards of Living by Clair Brown, white urban salaried employees earned an average income of $US2272 per year in 1918. So this one sounds about right.
A dentist could make $US2500 per year.
Again, based on the book American Standards of Living by Clair Brown, this one seems about right.
A veterinarian could make between $US1500 and $US4000 per year.
Again, why not? Seems roughly in line with American Standards of Living.
A mechanical engineer could make about $US5000 per year.
$US5000 per year was definitely on the higher end of the scale. Anywhere between $US1500 and $US2500 was much more common.
More than 95 per cent of all births took place at home.
By 1957, about 95 per cent of all American births took place in hospitals.
Ninety per cent of all doctors had no college education. Instead, they attended so-called medical schools and the government as “substandard”.
Medical schools were largely diploma mills into the first decade of the 20th century, but I couldn’t find a stat to confirm that 90 per cent of doctors had no college education. By 1915 there were actually major reforms going on in the medical community to ensure stricter standards for medical education.
Sugar cost $US0.04 per 450g.
It was closer to $0.07 450g. This is where this game of ahistorical Chinese Whispers really starts to shine.
Eggs were $US0.14 a dozen.
They were somewhere closer to $US0.50 a dozen, or roughly $US3.30 in today’s dollars.
Coffee was $0.15 per 450g.
Coffee was roughly $0.30 per 450g in 1915.
Most women only washed their hair once a month. They used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
Though “most women” is obviously a debatable term.
Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country.
Probably true in some way.
I can’t find the specific law that they’re talking about here, but even today immigrants to places like the United States often have to show financial statements to prove that they have money.
The five leading causes of death were: Pneumonia and influenza, Tuberculosis, Diarrhoea, Heart disease, and Stroke
The American flag had 45 stars.
The American flag had 48 stars in 1915. Oklahoma became the 46th state in 1907, and New Mexico and Arizona became the 47th and 48th states in 1912, respectively. Alaska and Hawaii rounded out the total to 50, both becoming states in 1959. Today: fifty states, fifty stars.
The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was only 30.
When Las Vegas was incorporated in 1911 it had a population of about 1500. By 1920 Vegas had a population of over 2000. The city wouldn’t see a boom in population until it was firmly established as a tourist destination in the late 1950s and swelled to over 64,000 people.
Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented yet.
Crossword puzzles were invented in 1913, and iced tea dates back at least to the 19th century, though it wasn’t commercialised in the United States until 1904. But, yes, canned beer wasn’t invented until 1935.
There was neither a Mother’s Day nor a Father’s Day.
President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day a national holiday in 1914. There was no Father’s Day yet.
Two out of every 10 adults could not read or write.
The adult literacy rate (14 and older) was just under 90 per cent in 1910 and reached 94 per cent by 1920.
Only six per cent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
This was true in 1900, but by 1915 the graduation rate hovered around 10 per cent or so.
Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at local corner drugstores. Back then pharmacists said, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach, bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health!”
Most of American history regarding drugs laws has a great deal to do with race and region. In fact, the country’s first drug prohibition law was passed by San Francisco in 1875 to explicitly target Chinese immigrants smoking opium. It’s true that heroin wasn’t made completely illegal until 1924, but even then, you couldn’t get it over the counter. Different states had different laws about cannabis, with Wyoming passing the first anti-marijuana law in 1915.
Eighteen per cent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic help.
This may have been true at the end of the 19th century, but by 1915 the percentage was much lower.
There were about 230 reported murders in the entire United States!
I’m too lazy to find the number for total murders in the US for 1915, but in the 28 largest cities alone, there were a total of 1614 homicides for that year.
Gizmodo’s Factually highlights fun facts, interesting photos and weird trivia.