Culture of the 1900s


Ascent: 1900

Decline: 1909

Cultural Hallmarks: popularity of phonographs for home use grows; Brownie camera allows for low-cost photography and snapshots; beginning of broadcast radio; cubist, fauvist and expressionist art; ragtime; blues; modernist literature; silent films

The decade following the turn of the century, it was in these years Great Britain experienced the Edwardian Era and the foundation of the Commonwealth of Australia, the United States was in the middle of its Progressive Era and the beginning of its colonization of the Philippines, and China and Japan were in the final years of the Qing Dynasty and Meiji Period.

Technologically, man took to the skies in the first zeppelin flight over German skies while the Wright Brothers flew the world’s first fully controllable aircraft. More culture could come into people’s homes than ever before with the growing popularity of phonographs in the home along with the Victor Talking Machine Company releasing the Victrola as the most popular gramophone model throughout the decade. Additionally, Eastman Kodak also invented the Brownie camera, permitting accessible low-cost photography and introducing the concept of snapshots. Early radio receivers were developed followed by the invention of radio broadcasting.

Lady in a Green Jacket , August Macke

Lady in a Green Jacket, August Macke

Numerous art movements flourished in the 1900s, such as Cubism which many consider to be one of the most influential of the 20th century. Pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, objects were analyzed, deconstructed and abstractly reconstructed. Cubist artists depicted them from multiple viewpoints in order for greater context.

Henri Matisse and André Derain led another known as Fauvism, a movement lasting only a few years within the decade. These works are characterized by unconstrained brushwork and the usage of pure color, making use of a large amount of simplification and abstraction.

Though it started in the decade prior, Expressionism grew in popularity and expanded to an array of cultural endeavors. Seeking to express the meaning of emotional experience, a number of artists were Expressionists including Lasar Segall, Vincent Van Gogh, Franz Marc, Edvard Munch, Otto Dix and Erich Heckel.

Ragtime sheet music

Ragtime sheet music

Popular music continued to evolve in this decade, expanding in popularity thanks to the availability of phonographs and gramaphones for home use. However, there was yet to be much variety in popular music. Short catch tunes were the norm as was ragtime, a genre increasing in popularity and later influencing the rise of jazz in the next few years.

On the other hand, 20th century symphonic music continued as composers like Gustav Mahler completed and premiered his Symphony No. 4, Claude Debussey premiered La mer, and Maurice Ravel composed and premiered Rapsodie espagnole.

Around the end of the 19th century, African Americans in the Deep South cultivated a genre that eventually came to be known as the Blues. It’s believed the first Blues publication is believed to have been “I Got the Blues” by New Orleans musician Antonio Maggio in 1908. The genre would grow in popularity and complexity in later decades.

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

The 1900s was a time when a large amount of novels and short stories were being published and a distinction between popular fiction and intellectual literature emerged. Some of fiction’s best known authors came from Edwardian Era Britain. Among them are J. M. Barrie, G. K. Chesterton, Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, P. G. Wodehouse, and H. G. Wells.

Modernism as a literary movement was undergoing its birth in this decade having been conceived in the last few years of the 19th century. These early Modernist writers were establishing such techniques as stream-of-consciousness, interior monologue and multiple points of view.

hand-painted still from Méliês'  A Trip to the Moon

hand-painted still from Méliês' A Trip to the Moon

Films were in their infancy in the 1900s, though movie theaters were quickly becoming popular entertainment venues. They were usually a few minutes long in this decade and were produced without sound, accompanied by live musicians and commentary by the show man or projectionist.

Some of the more notable films of this decade were Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery, running longer than most of the time at 12 minutes and making use of cross-cutting editing to show simultaneous action in different places, and Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, also longer and one of the first known science fiction films utilizing animation and special effects. The first ever feature film, Charles Tait's The Story of the Kelly Gang appeared in 1906. 

Sociological Timeline

  • Jan 2, 1900 - United States Secretary of State John Hay announces Open Door Policy promoting trade with China
  • March 14, 1900 - Gold Standard Act places United States currency on the gold standard
  • May 14, 1900 - Second Modern Olympic Games opens in Paris
  • May 17, 1900 - L. Frank Baum publishes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  • June 27, 1900 - London Underground opens
  • July 2, 1900 - First zeppelin flight carried out over Lake Constance near Friedrichshafen, Germany
  • December 2, 1900 - Louis Lassen makes the first modern day hamburger
  • Jan. 1, 1901 - Commonwealth of Australia founded; Pentecostalism begins
  • Jan 10, 1901 - First great Texas oil gusher in Beaumont
  • Jan. 22, 1901 - Death of Queen Victoria
  • Jan 28, 1901 - Baseball’s American League declares itself a major league
  • April 25, 1901 - New York becomes first state to require automobile license plates
  • Sept. 5, 1901- MInor League Baseball formed in Chicago as National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues
  • Oct. 2, 1901 - British Royal Navy’s first submarine, Holland 1, launched
  • Jan. 1, 1902 - First Rose Bowl between University of Michigan and Stanford University
  • April 2, 1902 - Electric Theatre, first movie theater in the United States, opens in Los Angeles
  • Aug. 9 - Edward VII crowned King of the United Kingdom
  • Nov 1902 - First teddy bear produced
  • Nov 30, 1902 - Kid Curry Logan, second-in-command of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch sentenced to 20 years hard labor
  • 1903 - First box of Crayola crayons made
  • Jan 19, 1903 - First west-east transatlantic radio broadcast
  • Sept. 11, 1903 - First stock car event at Milwaukee Mile
  • Oct. 1-13, 1903  - First modern World series between Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Dec 17, 1903 - First documented, successful, controlled, powered, heavier-than-air flight by Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
  • Jan. 8, 1904 - Blackstone LIbrary dedicated
  • Jan. 16, 1904 - First large-scale bodybuilding competition in America
  • Feb. 8, 1904 - Russo-Japanese War
  • Feb. 17, 1904 - Puccini’s Madama Butterfly opera debus
  • April 30, 1904 - St. Louis World’s Fair opens
  • July 1, 1904 - Third Modern Olympic Games opens in St. Louis
  • Dec 31, 1904 - First New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square
  • Jan. 1, 1905 - Trans-Siberian Railway officially opens
  • Jan. 5, 1905 - The Scarlet Pimpernel opens in London
  • Jan. 22, 1905 - Bloody Sunday
  • Jan. 26, 1905 - Russian Revolution of 1905 begins
  • May 15, 1905 - Las Vegas founded
  • Sept. 1, 1905 - Russo-Japanese War ends
  • April 14, 1906 - Azusa Street Revival opens in Los Angeles
  • May, 1906 - Jack London’s White Fang begins serialization
  • June 26, 1906 - First Grand Prix in Le Mans, France
  • Aug. 22, 1906 - First Victor Victrola phonograph player manufactured
  • Nov. 3, 1906 - SOS becomes international distress signal
  • 1907 - Autochrome Lumière becomes first commercial color photography process
  • March 22, 1907 - First taxicabs with taximeters operate in London
  • June 16, 1907 - Russian Revolution of 1905 ends
  • Dec. 31, 1907 - First ever ball drop in Times Square
  • Jan. 12, 1908 - Long-distance radio message sent from Eiffel Tower for the first time
  • Jan. 24, 1908 - Robert Baden-Powell publishes Scouting for Boys, Boy Scout movement begins
  • March, 1908 - The Children’s Encyclopaedia begins publication in London
  • July 13, 1908 - 1908 Summer Olympic Games begin in London
  • Aug. 17, 1908 - Emile Cohl makes Fantasmagorie, first fully animated film
  • Sept. 27, 1908 - Henry Ford produces first Model T
  • Oct. 19, 1908 - 1908 Winter Olympics begin in London
  • Nov. 25, 1908 - The Christian Science Monitor first published
  • May 19, 1909 - Russian ballet brought to the Western World
  • Aug. 2, 1909 - United States Army Signal Corp Division purchases world’s first military airplane from Wright brothers
  • Aug. 12, 1909 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens in the United States