Elgin a chatty town? Phone co. sure thought so in 1910

  • The demolition of the original Elgin High School building, on the left, was delayed in 1910 because students were continually throwing snowballs at the workers.

    The demolition of the original Elgin High School building, on the left, was delayed in 1910 because students were continually throwing snowballs at the workers.

Published: 1/22/2010 12:01 AM

Whoever thought Elgin people talk too much was probably right, if they said so in January 1910. The month also saw a rash of childhood gamblers, an unusual idea for dealing with the city's garbage, and a request by local ministers to stop eating meat. Here's a look at those and other stories that made area newspaper headlines a century ago this month.

Chatty town: Whoever said Elgin people love to talk was right, according to the telephone company officials. With almost 4,000 telephones: or nearly one for every four people in the city - Elgin was reported to have more telephones per 100 people than any other city in the U.S. To accommodate the growing need, the company was introducing a mix of letters and numbers, such as "W-1957," to replace the existing four-digit telephone number system. Five digits were too much too remember, said company officials, who opted for the new plan.

Childhood gambling: Many schoolchildren were spending all their spending money on "petty chance games," said the chief of police who ordered strict enforcement of the practices. Most of the wagering - ranging from 5 cents up to a dollar - was occurring in certain liquor establishments, cigars stores, and other businesses which allowed the children. "Make example out of two or three and the rest of the persons now violating the gaming laws, even in minor form, will be forced ... to live up to the letter of the ordinance," the chief explained.

Meatless Elgin: "Don't buy any meat," was the message from members of Elgin Ministerial Association who advocated residents join in a wider effort to lower prices by not purchasing the commodity. Also contributing to the rapidly rising cost of living were eggs, potatoes, butter, and fruit, which they suggested be boycotted. Eliminating meat from one's diet also put the spotlight on various area vegetarians, including one doctor and his family, who said they felt much better after eliminating meat from their diet.

Cemetery Records: It's probably been some time since you heard of someone who died of tuberculosis or pneumonia, but in 1909 they were the leading causes of death, according to the annual city clerk's report. Following these causes, in the order of occurrence, were "old age," "exhaustion," "heart failure," and "apoplexy," or stroke or sudden death. Over 20 percent of the deaths for the year were children under the age of 5 years, while a mere 1 percent were adults over 90 - an age far fewer people attained at the time.

Pig out on garbage: "Let's let the pigs eat Elgin's garbage," said five area farmers. As the city was poised to institute a municipal garbage pickup plan, and had announced the collection day for each portion of the city, the farmers said the nearly $3,000 to be spent annually on the plan was unnecessary. A week's worth of garbage would easy feed 100 of their hogs, they explained. The city health officer refused to comment on the farmers' plan instead telling residents to buy a garbage can and prepare for the free weekly pickup.

Snowball Problems: Men working on scaffolding and tearing down the old Elgin High School building proved too great a temptation for a number of high school students who couldn't resist throwing snowballs at them. The workers threatened to strike, but the problem was finally resolved by only working during the hours the students were in class. The demolition of the old building was being done to allow for the expansion of the new wing - now the administrative headquarters.

Invisible airplane: It's difficult to imagine the first airplane passing through Elgin with very few people seeing it, but that's exactly what happened. Reports indicated the machine entered the city on Wing Street and traveled south to Highland Avenue. It then crossed the river at Chicago Street and left the city by traveling along the river bank. And, why wasn't it seen? Because the airplane was in eight boxes labeled "Aero-plane - Handle with Care." Only transportation employees who handled the cargo on its way through the city to New York had a chance to peek inside.

Taxing Times: The beginning of individual income tax as we know it was still several years in the future, but in 1910 Congress launched the first corporate income tax. In preparation for the annual ritual, Elgin area companies, including the Elgin National Watch Co., said they would be conducting an annual inventory - a task many of them said they did regularly at year's end anyway. Government pamphlets and forms explained the regulations to area companies noting they could take various deductions and only those with a net income above $5,000 would be affected. The rate of taxation was a mere 1 percent - an amount that would increase manyfold in the years ahead.

Traveling museum: W. Henning, who said he hunted with "Buffalo Bill" Cody, brought to town what he called the "largest private collection of Indian relics and curios in the world." Included in his display was the sword reportedly used by General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn and a knife carried by Jack McCaul, who was notorious for killing Wild Bill Hickok. There was also various beadwork done by Sioux Indians and pottery from throughout Mexico. Henning, who claimed to have acquired almost every piece from the original sources, said he was approached by several universities to sell his collection but had decided against it.