Leisure and Luxury in 1912: A Look Back in Scientific American's Archives
In the new century, with a booming economy, a burgeoning middle class enjoyed the fruits of science and technology for life, work and leisure
Credit: Scientific American, December 7, 1912
ARTIFICIAL SURF: The “International Hygiene Exposition” in Dresden had a swimming pool with artificial waves. It looks like great fun but our more puritanical editors felt the need to justify a visit by concluding, “persons may derive benefit from the massage effected by the moving water.”
Scientific American, July 27, 1912
CRUISE SHIPS: A novel idea: just being on a boat, stopping off at interesting places around the world, just for fun. The Prinzessin Victoria Luise is considered to be the first ship purpose-built just for pleasure cruising. The $650 cost of an around-the-world cruise advertised in 1912 is equivalent to $15,000 today
Scientific American, February 10, 1912
TRAVEL AND PHOTOGRAPHY: A growing number of people had enough disposable income to spend on travel, cameras and film. Thus began the great tourist tradition of standing around ignoring the delightful scenery while fiddling with your camera.
Scientific American, February 17, 1912 and June 15, 1912
CIVILIZED TRAVEL: Travel was becoming more like a luxury hotel and less like steerage. (A century later that trend seems to be reversing.) Such advertisements encouraged family travel just for the fun of it--as well as dragging the kids to see the widely flung relatives.
Scientific American, April 20, 1912 Advertisement
CAMPING: This advertisement appeared 58 years after Henry David Thoreau wrote about his life at Walden Pond. The star is Wilderness, but (as with Thoreau) one easily within reach of “palatial trains” and “good hotels.”
Scientific American, June 1, 1912
LUXURY CARRIAGE: The cachet of the upper crust, without the expensive chauffeur. The advertisement says this battery-driven “society car” goes “faster than you will want to drive.” A top speed of only 20 m.p.h. proved this last to be untrue.
Scientific American, November 16, 1912
DRIVE FOR FUN: This message from 1912 is not only selling an internal-combustion car but also a lifestyle ideal: a pleasant ride in the country with your fashionably dressed friends and family (without any old-fashioned mechanical rudeness).
Scientific American, May 18, 1912
RACING BOATS: Power boats for racing “may well be called a ‘rich man’s toy.’” The article noted, however, the trickle-down effect when millionaires pushed the science and art of boatbuilding. Here, a racing boat bristles with exhaust pipes.
Scientific American, January 6, 1912 Advertisement
BILLIARDS AT HOME: Privacy was becoming more widespread. This new reality gave people a chance to play games in the private space of their own homes.
Scientific American, December 7, 1912
HYGIENIC LIVING: This advertisement may imply that being a model middle class citizen in 1912 means having the opportunity, perhaps even the duty, of taking care of yourself in a way that your parents did not or could not.
Scientific American, November 9, 1912
LUXURY OR ADDICTION?: Being a “brain worker” in a high-rise city has its perks and pleasures, and also, as the advertisement from 1912 points out, the necessity of producing your “best mental effort.”
Scientific American, November 30, 2012
NERVOUS WRECK?: The darker side of growing middle-class wealth was white-collar malaise. “If you find yourself with shattered, weakened nerves,” here’s an advertisement for a vitamin remedy (its descendent is still sold in the United Kingdom).
Scientific American, October 19, 1912 Advertisement
ELECTRICITY FOR COMFORT: Everybody complains about the weather, but at least people who could afford it could finally do something about it in their own offices and homes, as this 1912 advertisement attests.
Scientific American, June 15, 1912
SOUND SYSTEMS: A burgeoning trade. The promise of this advertisement from 1912 is the same one driving iPod sales: you can listen to any acoustical performance ever recorded, anywhere, any time.
Scientific American, October 12, 1912
CONSUMER ELECTRONICS: This advertiser from 1912 makes a very explicit link between their product and a lifestyle enhancement as the end product of technological improvement.
Scientific American, December 7, 1912
POWER TO THE PEOPLE: A July 1912 article, “A Mammoth Norwegian Power Plant” looks at the electricity powering the new economy and lifestyle and celebrates “a feverish ambition and energy toward being up and doing.”
Scientific American, July 27, 1912 Advertisement Advertisement
The new century brought a booming economy and a burgeoning middle class to the Western world. Their increasing wealth harnessed the fruits of science and technology to enhance life, work and leisure time.
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