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The United States in 1900 Previous Next
Digital History ID 3175


Life expectancy for white Americans was just 48 years and just 33 years for African Americans--about the same as a peasant in early 19th century India. Today, Americans' average life expectancy is 74 years for men and 79 for women. The gap in life expectancy between whites and non-whites has narrowed from 15 years to 7 years.

In 1900, if a mother had four children, there was a fifty-fifty chance that one would die before the age of 5. At the same time, half of all young people lost a parent before they reached the age of 21.

In 1900, the average family had an annual income of $3,000 (in today's dollars). The family had no indoor plumbing, no phone, and no car. About half of all American children lived in poverty. Most teens did not attend school; instead, they labored in factories or fields.

The nation's population shifted from the Northeast to the Sunbelt. In 1900, Toledo was bigger than Los Angeles. California’s population was the size of the population in Arkansas or Alabama. Today, Sunbelt cities like Houston, Phoenix, and San Diego have replaced Boston, Cleveland, and St. Louis. In 1900, about 60 percent of the population lived on farms or in rural areas. Today, one in four lives in rural areas; more than half live in suburbs.

The top five names in 1900 for boys were John, William, James, George and Charles; for girls they were Mary, Helen, Anna, Margaret, and Ruth--almost entirely traditional biblical and Anglo-Saxon names. The top five names today: Michael, Jacob, Matthew, Christopher, and Joshua for boys; Emily, Samantha, Madison, Ashley, and Sarah for girls. These names still reflect the strong influence of the Bible on naming-patterns but also the growing influence of entertainment. Florence and Bertha no longer even make the top 10,000 list of names.

Two of America's ten biggest industries were boot making and malt liquor production. There were only 8,000 cars in the country--none west of the Mississippi River. Dot-com communication still meant the telegraph.

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